Chembur-based NGO, Earth Brigade Foundation has been supplying sanitary napkins and menstruation essentials to the menstruators living in the forest areas and has installed several solar-water pumps to eliminate human-animal conflicts.
There are many social initiatives, organizations, and NGOs that consider distributing sanitary napkins to underprivileged women in rural areas. But Dr. Sarita Subramaniam, the founder of NGO Earth Brigade Foundation, asks if that is enough for the rural communities to change the practice of using sanitary napkins instead of clothes. And, as per her, the answer is – ‘no’. Dr. Subramaniam, who has been helping underprivileged women with their hygiene needs, under the initiative called, ‘Pink Brigade,’ mentioned that there are a lot of things that should be considered while lending a helping hand to women to ensure hygiene.
Pink Brigade, one of the initiatives taken by the Earth Brigade Foundation, has been making sure to educate women and menstruators about the importance of sanitary maintenance since 2017. Based in Chembur, near Mumbai, the organization’s initiative includes distributing eco-friendly sanitary napkins, undergarments, and other essentials, and educating them about menstrual hygiene practices. “Just giving the sanitary napkins are not enough unless the underprivileged menstruators are provided with undergarments,” Dr. Subramaniam says.
Along with this, Dr. Subramaniam and her team have also been educating menstruators to dispose off sanitary napkins properly. “There is a lot of unawareness among the women and girls living in the marginalized areas, and we are striving to reduce it by educating them,” she says. The Pink Brigade initiative has served more than 2,000 women in forest communities and over 5,000 flood-affected women with their six-month supply of sanitary napkins and other essentials.
The harsh realization
Going back a few years, one of the major reasons for Dr. Subramaniam to start the ‘Pink Brigade’ was a realization that “women never prioritize themselves”. Talking about her visit to the tribal hamlet of the Aarey Colony in Goregaon, Mumbai, she said, “I observed great discrimination in the tribal houses in the area as the majority of the women do not step out of their houses for various reasons. No doubt, one of the reasons was the lack usage of sanitary napkins,” she added.
The initiative kickstarted after Dr. Subramaniam helped the Goan underprivileged women for the first time back in 2017. In the last three years, the initiative has been carried in not just Aarey colony, but the outskirts of Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand and Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh. The team has also ensured the supplies in the flood-affected areas at Sunderbans; West Bengal, Jorhat; Assam, Ernakulam; Kerala, Kolhapur; Maharashtra and Bhubaneshwar; Odhisa. Not only this, but Pink Brigade was also active in providing the essentials to the COVID-affected migrants in New Delhi. About one such recent initiative carried out in Matheran, a popular hill station in Maharashtra, Dr. says, “We should always give back to the people and the place that gives us joy.”
Aiding Handloom weavers
One of the major challenges that the Earth Brigade Foundation has to deal with is the financial crisis, but the organization has its own way of meeting the problem; by also helping the handloom weavers, where most of them are women. Under the programme, ‘Weaving Dreams’, the team has been encouraging the dying art of traditional handloom weaving by sourcing the handloom sarees from the weavers and selling them on their behalf.
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While a large portion of the sales goes to the weavers, the team keeps a small share to use further to buy sanitary napkins and other essentials to give to these marginalized women. “It is a circle and has been aiding us with the finance apart from the donations,” Dr. Subramaniam says. As a matter of fact, the cycle has been keeping both – the organization and the initiative alive.
Toward ecological balance
The efforts of the team have not only ensured livelihood for women, but a lot of women in rural areas across the country have started cooking without using kerosene. Earth Brigade Foundation has set up solar lamps, umbrellas, and monthly rations for the communities that depend on forests like Bandipur in Karnataka, Kanha National Park & Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, and the Brahmapuri Divisional Forest in Maharashtra. Along with helping the women, the solar lamps have also been helping the children of these areas with their studies.
On the other hand, what also came to the team’s notice long back was how the wild animals often come to the water spots in the human settlements to drink water, further leading to human-animal conflicts. Hence, the team took ‘Project Aquarius’ to set up drinking water facilities for the wildlife in the arid forests of the places mentioned above. The team has also set up solar-operated water pumps in the forest areas.
Detailing the future plans, Dr. Subramaniam said that she has been looking forward to instilling the acceptance of menstrual cups among the menstruators of marginalized areas. “Women are very resistant to using menstrual cups due to the lack of knowledge,” she said. Adding to this, she mentioned that the team is gearing up to carry the distribution drive of sanitary napkins and other menstruation essentials in Kanha Tiger Reserve for the Gond and Baiga tribal women in and around the area.
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