Suman is part of the NGO named Carevanta
(Written by Sheema Zehra)
At the 91st Academy Awards last year, Period. End of Sentence, won the Oscar for the Best Documentary. Shot in India, the 26-minute film, directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and produced by Guneet Monga, looks closely at the stigma of menstruation in India and follows a group of women in Kathi Khera village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur district, who fought the myths and deep-rooted stigmas that surround menstruation. It focused on the 20-year-long struggle of the women of the village to overcome health issues because of lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene. The film also brings to light how after decades of no access to sanitary pads, the women learnt to manufacture and market their own pads, named Fly, when The Pad Project started in their village in 2017, changing their lives forever.
Suman, who was part of the path-breaking project, and featured prominently in the award-winning short documentary, was in Chandigarh to present awards to social activist Renu Mathur and educational motivator Renu Goel. Speaking about her journey and association with the film, Suman, 40, said, “I was part of The Pad Project. I started spreading awareness among women on health and hygiene around 15 years back and my work was mainly focused on menstruation and sanitary pads.”
When the GLI group from America wanted to set up the menstruation project in the village, it could not find space, as the villagers were opposing the initiative. A group of women from the village, including Suman, opened their homes for the project and rented out other places to live in.
Born and brought up in Delhi, Suman says, she was married in the village but because of her background, she was both aware and concerned about issues concerning women’s health. She had been associated with the cause long before the project came to the village. While there was always opposition, Suman says, family support helped her move forward. The other women, says Suman, were always a source of encouragement. Supporting each other, they worked together to fight all stereotypes. “The villagers didn’t want us to join the initiative and discouraged us from working. They said this was filthy work. Over time, things have changed. We are able to talk about periods fearlessly in our village,” adds Suman.
Suman says, Fly refers to the ease woman felt while using the sanitary napkins. Originally, the name of the endeavour was ‘Houslun Ki Udaan’. The initiative and the Oscar, she feels, has helped reach out to a larger number of people. “The youth today knows that periods are not a disease, but a biological process. Awareness is no longer limited to women. Men are equally well-informed,” she adds.
Now Suman, along with other women from the village, including Sneha, who was also an integral part of the project, has started a NGO named Carevanta. They are working on a Pad Yatra, with the goal of reaching out to every woman, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. “We have received no support from the government, but have tremendous support from the common people. We hope to receive support from different quarters,” says Suman.
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