Education is The Key to Breaking the Period Taboo: Pallavi Arya, Co-founder of Amari Foundation

In 2019, Iranian American director Rayka Zehtabchi’s Netflix original, Period. End of Sentence, turned heads at the Oscars. The documentary, set in the village of Hapur, outside of Delhi, had raised certain pertinent questions surrounding the state of menstrual hygiene and awareness in India. It focused on the taboo, especially outside the tier I contours, where the topic is still mentioned in hush-hush conversations.

The truth is, despite all the technological advancements and the spurt of entrepreneurial endeavours promoting a slew of social causes in India, periods still is a stereotyped subject. ‘Don’t enter the kitchen, don’t touch the pickles, don’t leave the premises of the house’… the myths surrounding menstruation continue to limit and even inhibit the movement of young women here.

Studies have found that around 23 million girls are forced to drop out of schools every year in India, due to the lack of awareness and the availability of appropriate menstrual hygiene products. Another UNICEF report suggests that it’s a common belief in most parts of India that the blood released when a girl is on her period is impure, leading to her restricted movement.

Pallavi Arya, Co-founder of Amari Foundation, with some of the students the NGO is working with.

Haryana-based Amari Foundation is on a mission to shatter these stereotypes. Putting thoughts into action, the non-profit organization is traveling to the remotest villages to educate young girls and also to provide them with an all-inclusive Amari Menstrual Kit.

Putting menstrual awareness first

“We at Amari would provide complete availability of menstrual kits along with an interactive discussion on menstrual education to reach out to every young girl,” says the team behind the Amari Foundation.

Launched in April 2018, the coming together of this foundation was the culmination of a vision that moved law graduates Pallavi Arya (23) and Amandeep Gautam (24) to action.

“Amandeep and I were always up for discussions regarding the society and the different kinds of norms that prevail,” recalls Pallavi. “We started off with a team and shouldered all the responsibilities personally, as we were very selective about the professionals who worked with us. We didn’t want individuals who were working with us for monetary reasons but who really wished to make a change in the society,” she adds.

It the two years since its inception, Amari Foundation has touched the lives of over 3,500 young girls in rural India. The non-profit, that aims to educate girls and women along with the entire ecosystem - comprising parents, teaching professionals, and school authorities- has made its presence felt in some of the remote corners of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, and Rajasthan.

Amari Foundation's Menstrual Kit

 

Do your part, with the Amari Menstrual Kit

Pallavi has observed that field projects require extra caution. Since educational institutes are “sometimes interpreted to be against rituals and religious beliefs,” her team needs to handle these grounds with prudence, to ensure that they don’t offend the parents of students.

Amari Foundation has so far covered more than 10 villages in four states, delivering the schools in each of these places with its Amari Menstrual Kit – an all-in-one kit comprising sanitary napkins, other menstrual hygiene products that will last a year, undergarments, and an educational booklet. This gynaecologist-approved booklet, named Sakhi, is available in both Hindi and English.

Overall, the menstrual hygiene kit – a single kit costs around Rs 800/ year – is completely free for the first year, with sponsors supporting it. And second year onwards, girls need to bear a certain percentage of the total amount.

“There are ladies who have actually donated Amari kits to their domestic helps because they feel that this basic amenity should be given to them free of cost,” quips Pallavi.

She adds, “People even approach us on their birthdays when they want to do something for the greater cause… some of them even have sponsored kits for a girl.”

The mission ahead

To do away with the periods taboo, one of the simplest things that people can do, according to Pallavi, is speak more about it. It is essential to understand that menstruation is a completely biological process and not an ailment or disorder as the society has perceived it to be.  

And in promoting this ideology, influencers and other celebrities could play a key role, as integral as the purpose served by other members of the society - including, teachers, family members, and even the male members of the community.

A scene from Amari Foundation's workshop, where menstrual kits are donated to school girls.

“A collective effort with like-minded organizations where the man-power and funds can be clubbed together is a way to eradicate this taboo,” adds Pallavi.

Her foundation, which has partnered up with the Rotary International, has been amplifying its projects and campaigns towards this end. Their recent CSR partners include the Sonalika Group (International Tractors Limited) and Absolut Data Analytics besides numerous other private donors.

“We are also conducting a program in Delhi NCR on the occasion of World Women's Day where we are set to target more than 250 girls,” explains the Founder.

Amari’s future plans are primarily focused on reaching out to more than 10,000 girls in more than five new states in the coming years. And for this, the organization is in the lookout for new CSR partners around the globe who wish to bring a reliable change in the society.

As Pallavi quips, “Education is the key to solving this taboo.”