At a time when the Akshay Kumar starrer ‘PadMan’, chronicling the true story of Tamil Nadu’s Arunachalam Muruganantham is making it big in the theatres, and helping bring the issue of menstrual hygiene to the Indian masses, there’s another lesser-known story of a woman, who left the comforts of a high-paying job in America, to dedicate her life to helping the women of her homeland.
Maya Vishwakarma, a 35-year old woman hailing from the state of Madhya Pradesh, may have left home to build a life overseas several years ago, but now she’s back, with a suitcase full of hope, idealism and determination to educate and help the rural women hailing from the various districts of the state, to tackle the very real problem of menstrual hygiene.
Her tremendous efforts and contributions to manufacturing cost-effective pads, making them easily available to the masses, and spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene has earned her the nickname of ‘Pad jiji’ (Pad sister), much like we’ve come to know of Muruganantham as India’s ‘PadMan’.
According to News18, Maya was working as a researcher on leukemia at the University of California for a few years, where she was part of a team that developed new AML vaccines and bone marrow gene therapy.
Moving back to India, she realised the sorry state of affairs regarding menstrual hygiene, especially in the rural parts of the country.
"After returning to my hometown, I decided to not only educate girls and women across tribal MP about the importance of safe menstrual health, but also provide them with safe and effective sanitary pads." - Maya Vishwakarma told The Sunday Standard, as reported by The New Indian Express
Soon after, she managed to put forth a strong enough campaign that allowed her to combine her personal savings with those procured from crowdfunding and contributions from the California Foundation and Sukarma Foundation, to purchase a sanitary pad manufacturing machine and other equipments at a total cost of Rs five lakh, the report adds.
Her Journey to Spreading Awareness About Menstrual Hygiene
As reported by News18, the sanitary pad manufacturing unit purchased by Maya was made operational within a month, following which she set up a team of all-women staff at Dedwara village in Narsinghpur, which is also her native town.
As of now, the unit is reported to manufacture about 1,000 sanitary pads a month, at the cost of Rs 20 a piece, the report adds.
"We are contemplating ways to reduce the cost and double the production." - Maya Vishwakarma told News18
With the current buzz that is being created by PadMan, Maya has found the road to spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene among the Indian masses, especially the rural sections, significantly easier.
"The upcoming movie, PadMan, has definitely created conducive atmosphere for the topics of sanitary pads that was otherwise a taboo." - Maya Vishwakarma told News18
This was a stark comparison to when she was a student in Jabalpur, where a constant stigma hung around the phrase ‘menstruation’ and it was almost referred to as a taboo, reports The New Indian Express.
As reported by News18, she also visited Muruganatham in Coimbatore who greatly complimented her efforts. She is also planning to conduct an awareness rally regarding menstrual hygiene, through the tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh, starting with Narsinhgpur to Alirajpur, Sidhi to Singrauli and Balaghat to Khandwa, the report adds.
"Our target is to reach out to girls at 450-plus schools in 21 districts, and educate them about the importance of safe menstrual health to make the entire trek a public movement." - Maya Vishwakarma told The New Indian Express
Her Role in the Aam Aadmi Party
Maya is also an active and influential member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and had even contested the Lok Sabha election on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket, but lost.
However, as reported by Economic Times, she had been helping the campaign for AAP even when she was working as a researcher in America, and had been an instrumental part in collecting funds and support for the Party.
On her return to India, she became a known face in the party’s activities, but before that, her independent reputation as ‘Pad jiji’, the crusader for encouraging positive menstrual hygiene, is what she’ll be remembered for.
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