My experience while distributing pads during Bihar floods
Updated: Feb 6
My teammate and I from Alharh, along with our collaborators, Robinhood Army-Bhagalpur and Peepal-TheResilienceLab went for a flood distribution drive on 29th August. The road on the way to the target location, Baijalpur, was in the worst possible shape.
Upon reaching, it was quite difficult for us to make our way through as the flooded river Ganges had cut across the paths. To start things off, we did a survey to get an estimate of the number of those who genuinely needed our help. As the team communicated with the people of the community, I gathered a bunch of women to conversate on menstruation and to better understand how to be of help to them.
At first, they were not able to understand what I used the word, "periods" . Due to this, I tried my best in using pure Hindi words as correctly as I possibly could have the reason being that their mother tongue was not English but rather a local dialect like Angika or Magahi. Some used their 'pallu' (veil) to hide their faces ridden with a shy smile. This clearly indicated the taboo around menstruation and how uncomfortable they were in talking about it in public.
But, a lady showed great interest around this conversation and began actively interacting with us. She answered all of the questions I put her way and shed light on the challenges she had faced and still faces. She stated that it was extremely difficult for her to get out of the part of the area that she lived in to purchase sanitary pads while being a widow with two children and added that the people of the community were extremely orthodox and could not even talk about or bring up the topic of periods.
I started the same discussion with a few girls who lived adjacent to the place we were planning to carry out our flood donation drive at. They revealed that they don't use sanitary napkins while menstruating but rather their old clothes as a pad. They stated that they hardly had money to meet their basic needs making it not possible for them to afford a sanitary napkin. The toilet in that area had been built at the floodwater level, due to which they faced numerous problems.
During the course of the food and menstrual pads distribution, people started fighting among themselves and snatching the food packets meant to be equally donated among them. My teammate and I were distributing the sanitary pads in an orderly manner, but as time progressed, we were surrounded by lots of people. We kept our kits at a safe place to ensure its safety and maintain its utility, especially due to the presence of carefree children. Eventually, things spiralled out of control and we had to leave.
A suggestion I'd like to make while planning a donation drive is to get a proper view of the quantity of people receiving the kits. Additionally, the native languages of different communities need to be taken into consideration while keeping the needs and demands of the common folk in mind. We also need to acknowledge that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and wear masks at all times, sanitize ourselves regularly and socially distance during these drives. Lastly, menstrual needs are essential needs and just like access to food, basic amenities, etc. during calamities affect different people differently based on their socio-economic background, so are access to menstrual products similarly affected. We must make sure to take this into account while considering the obvious : periods do not stop for pandemics, or floods.
Edited by Aditi Singh