Empowering our Adolescent Girls Project
The Akshaya Patra Foundation was set up in India to end classroom hunger. Over the years, the initiative has moved beyond hunger to providing education materials and supplies, and sanitation kits to adolescent girls.
Menstruation - the most natural aspect of sexual maturity is still a topic that’s not spoken about openly. The practices of adolescent girls in semi-urban and rural parts of India are entrenched in socio-cultural taboos and old wives’ tales. The majority of the girls do not have the right scientific knowledge about menstruation and are isolated during menstruation. They use cloth or homemade sanitary pads and are at high risk of infections. The primary reason for this unhygienic and risky use of cloth is the lack of affordability of sanitary napkins.
Families are large, incomes are meager - the choice often is between putting food on the table or buying a packet of sanitary napkins for the girls in the family. In addition, poor water, lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, inadequate puberty education, and lack of hygiene lead to poor menstruation practices.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation Switzerland chapter submitted the project proposal to the United Nations Women's Guild (UNWG) based in Geneva. The scope of the project involves providing free sanitary napkins to 2200 adolescent girls between the ages of 12 to 16 years across 16 schools based in semi-urban and rural Ajmer in Rajasthan, India, and educating the girls on safe menstrual hygiene practices.
The project was selected among the top three NGO projects out of forty by the UNWG selection committee and was awarded the UN grant.
The Akshaya Patra team in Ajmer is leading the efforts of the project implementation by way of procurement, packaging, and distribution of sanitary packages at schools. From April to September 2023, each of the 2,200 girls received a packet of sanitary napkins each month.
About 400 students were interviewed to understand their monthly habits and hygiene practices. The girls were informed how to use and dispose of the sanitary napkins in an environmentally friendly way. The response has been very positive in terms of impact, as each of the girls feels very secure, confident, and energetic when they use sanitary napkins in place of old cloth. Additionally, they are able to attend school during their periods and as a result, there is a big improvement in their academic performance.
TAPF hopes to continue this initiative beyond the six-month duration by collaborating with the Government of India initiatives and by partnering with the Corporate sector. Upon successful deployment of the pilot phase, the second phase would involve scale-up of the project deployment to the ~ 25,000 schools where the meals are served by The Akshaya Patra Foundation in India by partnering with multi-national companies based in India.