Initiative aims to reduce girls' school drop-out rate by spreading menstruation awareness

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Mumbai: An initiative by a non-profit organisation in Maharashtra aims to remove social and cultural stigma associated with menstruation, one of the factors contributing to the high school drop-out rate among adolescent girls.

Under `Ujaas', an initiative launched in collaboration with the state government, awareness sessions are conducted at government schools.

As many as 20 percent of girls drop out of school on reaching puberty due to lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, which also contributes to school absenteeism, said Ujaas founder Advaitesha Birla.

"According to reports, it is estimated that 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to menstruation-related issues. We feel that increasing awareness, accessibility and affordability will help reduce the drop-out rates, especially in rural areas," she told PTI earlier this week.

The initiative has been launched by the Aditya Birla Education Trust.

Lack of awareness on menstrual hygiene leads to infections and reproductive health issues, menstrual disorders, psychological distress, pregnancy complications among others, Birla stated.

"Many girls don't even know what menstruation is until their first period, which we found early on to be a significant gap in knowledge. We aim to create a supportive and positive ecosystem involving girls, parents, community members, teachers, and boys. We address affordability and accessibility by distributing sanitary napkins for free, ensuring girls have the resources they need once they are aware," she said.

"We have permissions from the SCERT (State Council of Educational Research and Training) and are working towards getting approvals for more schools. This shows the government's interest in supporting this initiative," Birla added.

In many cases, schools and local communities are initially not willing to allow awareness sessions to be held due to the stigma associated with menstruation, she noted.

"People are reluctant to have these sessions, often citing previous efforts or other priorities like exams. Social and cultural hurdles make girls very shy to talk on this subject. Once we overcome the initial resistance, we see significant progress. Both principals and teachers often acknowledge the positive impact of our sessions," Birla added.

In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ujaas has also started a production unit for reusable sanitary napkins at Jalna in central Maharashtra.

"We have begun training women and we now have a fully functioning production unit with 25 self-help group women in Jalna. We are planning to expand this model to other parts of the country once we establish and see how this unit is working," Birla said.