I am very glad and honored to publish this interview with Dipti K (Dipti Kashalkar), who is a wonderful, relentless woman highly committed and engaged to support girls’ and women’s health and fight against period poverty and gender discrimination in her country.
Dipti K is a traveler and Bike Rider. She is an Instagram influencer and a freelancer into website designing.
Dipti K is also the Organising Committee President of Upasana Society NGO which was founded in 2012. Upasana is a volunteer driven NGO that works for rural and urban development in India. All the campaigns of Upasana focus on bringing sustainable change in the society, with particular attention on the importance of menstrual hygiene and education and access to sustainable sanitary products for girls and women.
Dipti K, could you please tell us how and why you started to work on such an important issue like menstrual health?
I got introduced to social work after I got married to Saurabh, who is the Founder of the Upasana NGO. He used to visit the villages with his female medical volunteers, who would educate the girls in the school.
Another reason why I wanted to take this ahead was my own struggle with Periods as a teenager. When I got my periods, I was 16 years old, in school. Those days, menstruation was an untouched topic, rather a topic not be spoken about at all. One day, while I was returning home from school which was at walking distance, I observed people staring at me on the streets. My school uniform was Red Shirt and Beige Skirt. I was terrified to see all the blood stains on my skirt while changing clothes. I asked my Mom about it, so did I ask my friends, unfortunately no one wanted to answer my queries. There was no access to internet as well. The schools did not educate us on the topic either. And my family was suffering from financial crisis which made it impossible to buy pads. Thus, I ended up using a cloth for 6-7 years of my life until I started earning myself. The first thing I bought from my first salary was a pack of Sanitary Pads. The use of cloth for a long time gave rise to a number of infections which took a long time to heal after I started using hygienic sanitary pads. My own experience made me realize the importance of spreading awareness and making myself available to young girls as a mentor who can guide them during menstrual cycles and also provide them with hygienic products free of cost.
While I was using sanitary pads and preaching about the same to the underprivileged tribal girls, I was introduced to Menstrual Cups. I started using one and did a lot of research to understand the benefits of the same over disposable sanitary pads and the impact on health as well as environment.
It’s been more than a year now that I am using a cup and spreading awareness about the importance to use one. I have been able to successfully convince girls/women to switch to cups. We are also providing the cups free of cost to the underprivileged girls across India.
Can you please describe your work on Menstrual awareness and education in India?
We have been working on Menstrual Hygiene Awareness and distribution of free menstrual products since 2014. Since 2015, we have reached out to 18000-20000 girls/women, giving workshop on Menstrual Hygiene Management.
We have been continuously working in the following locations:
- Dahanu, Palghar
- Vajreshwari, Palghar
- Aarey Colony, Mumbai, Maharashtra
- Calicut, Kerela
- Kochi, Kerala
- Hyderabad, Telangana
- Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
- Noida,Uttar Pradesh
Our approach consists in working direct with the girls and women of the communities where we carried out the following activities:
- Conducting Menstrual Hygiene workshops
- Spreading awareness about sustainable menstrual hygiene products
- Providing free sanitary pads to underprivileged based on the donations received
- Providing menstrual cups to reduce dependency on sanitary pads over a period of time
In 2019, we launched a very important campaign called #Menstruation2019 that focuses on spreading awareness about sustainable menstruation products which cause less harm to the environment and are also comfortable and beneficial for the girls and women who use it. 1 girl uses around 5 000-6 000 non-biodegradable sanitary pads in her entire menstrual life which take more than 500 years to degrade. 1 cup lasts for 6 to 8 years. Therefore, we conduct workshops to raise awareness among urban population about biodegradable menstrual products, like the menstrual cups and to inform how to reduce the use of non-biodegradable sanitary napkins.
The objective of the campaign #Menstruation2019 is to donate menstrual cups to 2019 underprivileged women who cannot afford it and make them independent for 6-8 years.
How would you describe the impact of your work in the life of the girls and women that you meet?
When I meet the girls and women for the first time, they kind of hate me for picking up this topic and talking about it in front of a large group of people. But towards the end of the workshop, they do realize that I have no other objective but to help them with their menstruation, the problems that they cannot discuss about with anyone else. I can feel it after the workshop is over, when they spend an equal amount of time sharing their personal problems with me. They also want to know about my future workshops and some even help me arrange one at their schools, colleges, offices, etc.
I think, it’s high time women stand for each other and help each other with such vital information which is only possible by being open about it with at least one person who is the closest to them.
With the increasing number of cases of cervical cancer, urinary tract infection, polycystic ovary, premenstrual syndrome, etc. it is important to reach maximum number of people, both men and women, boys and girls, by conducting these kind of workshops to support healthy menstruation.
What is the reaction of the families and the communities? Why is menstrual education in India beneficial for them?
In India, there are many places even in today’s time, where people believe in the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation. But as per my experience, I do see change. It’s just that CHANGE takes time and thus consistency is the key to success.
I feel both men and women need to know about Menstruation because it is a biological process. The more they know about it, the more it will be beneficial for their own health and the health of their loved ones as well and the future generation. And as I mentioned earlier, the number of cases of menstrual disorders have increased tremendously in the last couple of years. Thus, prevention is important and always better than cure.
What are the main challenges of menstrual education in India?
With the increasing demand for awareness raising on this topic along with the provision of free menstrual products to the underprivileged, one major challenge is funding. Mere education is not going to bring a change in the society in people’s lives. Action is required and thus if we get help, we can reach out and help more and more number of people.
Apart from that, initially I did feel that being consistent was a challenge, but gradually that has become a habit and thus I don’t find it to be challenging now.
Also, you may end up meeting people who do not want to change, all we can do is ask them to not let that creep into their next generation. And that is why, we majorly conduct these workshops for girls at a very young age.
What are the priorities and main issues to tackle when working on menstrual health and education in your country?
India is a society-driven country. Majority of the people follow herd mentality here. According to majority of the people, I am walking in a different direction, but as time is passing by, people have started following me for their own good.
It will take another decade for me alone to be able to bring a change on a massive scale. But if many hands come together, I find it will be easier. We need to change the way people look at social work or philanthropy. The first priority is to educate and then to donate the products to the ones who cannot afford it. Simultaneously, we need to focus on raising funds to be able to continue with the mission and reach out to more places across India.
Dipti K, what can we do to support your work, from our countries?
I want to expand this initiative to not only India but across the globe wherever needed. If you could help us raise funds, we can put it in a proper structure with the required people like gynecologists, trainers, etc.
Apart from funds, if you could also help us spread awareness about our campaigns to as many people as possible.
Thank you Dipti K, we will surely do. Congratulations for your amazing work!!
All the campaigns of the Upasana NGO focus on bringing sustainable change in the society. You can discover more at the following links and support them!!
4. My Own Plate