When Devika Kumar, a student of Indian origin at a Texas high school in the US, learned that menstrual health and hygiene were taboo subjects in India’s rural areas, she decided to do something about it.
Kumar had often visited a remote village with her parents, but only learned quite recently that anything to do with menstruation was taboo, and that women and girls go through life not only ashamed of their monthly cycles, but with no idea how to deal with them hygienically.
"Many of them think it’s a disease, which is crazy,” Kumar told a Houston, Texas, news service. “Many of them don't know it’s a normal biological process. They use clothes and in extreme cases they use newspapers, dried leaves and ashes sometimes."
Horrified, Kumar decided to travel to the village again and speak to the villagers. Since sanitary napkins are not easily available in that remote location, and in any case, the nearest market is 45 km away, she also raised $4,600 to buy a machine that makes sanitary pads, and took it to the village for the women.
There, she taught the women how to use the machine to make cost-effective sanitary pads, and then worked with her mother and sister to hold group discussions about women’s bodies and the biological process of menstruation as part of a Girls Scout project she called MAHI - Menstrual Awareness and Hygiene in India.
With her sister’s help, Kumar is now working on turning the MAHI project into a not-for-profit group that will continue to help women with menstrual issues in countries like India.