My relatives said “Farheen Kya Besharmi Ka Kaam Kr rhi Hai”

“Ab bade hogye ho” (Now you’ve grown up) – this vague statement was given to Farheen whenever she enquired about the changes she observed growing up.

When she started going through puberty, she had a lot of questions and felt confused. But her parents didn’t seem interested in talking or telling her about “menstruation.” This isn’t just a problem in Farheen’s house; in most homes, it’s a topic that people prefer to keep quiet about.

Today, Farheen Naaz, the co-founder and CEO at WeTheChange (India), actively raises awareness and disseminates knowledge about menstrual hygiene within society.

“Our primary objective is to challenge and break down the stereotypes and taboos associated with menstruation. We strive to create an environment where open discussions about periods, which are

often stigmatised, become normalised,” said Farheen.

Start with your family

As per Farheen, it is disheartening that when we are unwell with a fever, our families take care of us, yet we often find ourselves isolated and left to endure the pain of menstrual cramps alone.

“Years ago, I witnessed my sister enduring immense pain one day. Unaware of her discomfort, our father instructed her to wake up and perform the afternoon prayer. Upon his return, he found her still lying in the same position on the bed,” said Farheen.

Understanding the severity of her condition, I approached our father and informed him that she was experiencing menstrual cramps, she added.

This simple revelation led to an outpouring of understanding and extra support.

After that, in late 2018, Farheen embarked on a professional journey in an NGO, actively discussing issues such as sexual harassment and menstrual hygiene, both in front of boys and girls.

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while distributing ration kits, a woman approached Farheen. She requested an additional pack of sanitary pads, as only one was included in the kit.

The lady said – “Ration to sb baat rahe hain, pad koi nhi. Yaha khaane ke paise nhi hai, sanitary pad kaha se laaye. (Everyone is distributing ration, but nobody is bothered about pads. We don’t even have money for food; how can we afford pads).

That hit hard, said Farheen.

And her work begins………

Farheen and the team curated comprehensive kits consisting of 50 sanitary pads, 50 disposal bags, two pairs of panties, soap, and a mask, totalling nearly Rs 500 per kit.

However, this start would not have been possible without the support Farheen received from her younger brother – Abu Sufiyan. This support from the male family member was crucial to bringing such a change and starting a movement that spread across India and the world.

“Our initial focus was on Delhi and fostering a women-led movement. We received generous contributions from individuals worldwide, allowing us to raise an impressive amount of 35 to 40 lakhs,” said Farheen.

With these funds, we extended our reach to over 10,000 individuals in tribal and rural areas, providing essential education on menstrual health. She added that our efforts have positively impacted more than 25,000 individuals.

Moreover, menstruation is not exclusive to women; a segment of men also experience it, known as Transmen. Biologically, these individuals possess a uterus within their bodies, and transitioning from a uterus to a male identity is integral to their journey.

The road was not easy for Farheen

Farheen received unwavering support and encouragement from his brother, who played a pivotal role in urging him to embark on this movement.

“My parents are the greatest support, as they dedicatedly provided me with education despite belonging to a conventional and orthodox background,” she said.

As per Farheen, her mother initially harboured some resentment, questioning the significance of her focus on menstrual hygiene after having invested so much in education.

Determined to make her understand the importance of the mission, Farheen engaged in a heartfelt conversation, explaining that the work is aimed at saving lives, as menstrual hygiene had the potential to prevent countless deaths each year.

Farheen said, “Over the past six months, securing funding has consistently been challenging for our organisation. While we are grateful for the

overwhelming number of requests to expand our operations and reach other states, the lack of financial resources has hindered our ability.

She added that despite the demand and eagerness to make a broader impact, we could not fulfil these requests due to the constraints imposed by insufficient funds.

Breaking stereotypes

There are three key stereotypes we aim to address in our campaign.

  • Firstly, we prioritise educating mothers and grandmothers, emphasising that they are not to be blamed for perpetuating certain beliefs. By teaching mothers, we empower them to pass on accurate knowledge to their families and recognise the importance of involving male members of the family in this process, especially fathers and brothers of the menstruators.
  • Secondly, we actively include men in our conversations to strengthen our campaign. We believe their engagement is crucial in challenging stereotypes and fostering a supportive environment.
  • Lastly, our collective efforts focus on breaking stigmas surrounding menstrual health, hygiene, and waste management.

Through our work, we strive to create a more informed and inclusive society that embraces

these crucial aspects of women’s health, said Farheen.

Towards no plastic pads & red dot bags

“The very first pad of the world is not decomposed yet. One pad takes thousands of years to decompose, and in one life, a menstruator uses roughly 11,000 pads,” said Farheen.

Thus, promoting zero-plastic pads as a more sustainable alternative is crucial. Companies manufacturing these products should take responsibility by adopting eco-friendly options.

Farheen said: “In our organisation, we solely use zero plastic pads and plan to launch our line of such products.”

It is important to avoid using traditional plastic bags for disposal, as they can become infectious when they decompose over time.

To that end, the team has introduced a simple and effective mechanism for disposing of pads called the Red Dot Bag. This bag serves as a visual reminder and helps raise awareness about the proper disposal of menstrual products.

To use it, you simply wrap your used pads in a paper bag marked with a red dot, differentiating it from other types of garbage.

It serves two purposes: First, it helps prevent sanitation workers from being exposed to hazardous biomedical waste (plastic pads) that can cause serious health issues; secondly, it provides menstruators with the right way of throwing away their waste.

Hence, sanitation workers become aware and can handle such waste sensitively.

“We must take responsibility for our actions and prioritise the proper disposal of menstrual products, ensuring the safety and dignity of those involved in waste management. By being mindful and considerate, we can contribute to the well-being of sanitation workers and work towards a more sustainable and responsible approach to waste disposal,” Farheen concluded.

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