Srinagar, Sep 1: An online petition by menstrual hygiene campaigner Ahanger Zahida has brought considerable change in schools in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Zahida started the online campaign appealing to the Baramulla district administration to "Celebrate World Menstrual Hygiene Day” in all higher secondary schools and she did not expect a positive response, that too within a month.
The District Development Commissioner’s office in Baramulla took cognisance of her petition, sent out circulars directing the schools to organise World Menstrual Hygiene Day celebrations and organised awareness campaigns. Additionally, she met the Chief Education Officer who emphasised that the administration is working with 50 schools to install pad vending machines while more are on the way.
Zahida, an Nguvu Change Leader, and the co-founder of Stand for Kashmiri Youth (SKY) in Baramulla, spearheaded the menstruation hygiene revolution in some of the most underserved communities.
In her online petition, Zahida says, "Talking openly about menstruation is often considered disgraceful. In fact, my mother had told me that menstruation was an 'illness.' This is why as a class 8 student who was just entering puberty, I was not prepared to deal with the challenges that menstruation brings with it. One of my friends helped me with an absorbent cloth, which was not hygienic. She, like many of her peers, was not aware of the hygiene issues related to the use of fabrics."
This was a seminal turning point in Zahida's life and she decided that no other girl should experience what she had. She subsequently launched her organisation - SKY Trust, in 2016 and also initiated a study to understand the menstrual problems faced by women in nearly 20 villages in two districts of Jammu and Kashmir. She discovered that 90% of menstruators reported symptoms of urinary tract infections, 65% faced painful periods, and 56% would medicate themselves without consulting a doctor. This led to another campaign called 'Let's Talk About It.' By helming over 43 awareness sessions in rural Kashmir, Zahida has today reached 5000 menstruators and empowered them with information about menstrual hygiene.
Trained by Nguvu Collective in digital campaigning, Zahida, who is cofounder of SKY a voluntary organization, is now mobilising people online for creating more public awareness on the challenges around menstruation, and is helping build the next generation of well-informed community leaders.