Purvi Tanwani (27), a BBA graduate from Christ University, Bengaluru, was always ambitious about carving her niche in the corporate world. As a business analyst at KPMG India, she had assisted in several multi-billion dollar deals. But after a few years, Purvi felt that there was no scope for growth, and returned to her hometown, Kolkata, in 2018. Little did she know that this would start her journey as the co-founder and director of a social organisation.
Initially founded by Purvi’s relative Namrata, the Kolkata-based NGO - named Anahat For Change- aims to create awareness about menstruation, child rights, and nutrition among the underprivileged sections of society.
The Turning Point
“As part of a pan-India study for a corporate giant in 2018, Namrata and I had to survey individual households for toilets that came under the Swachh Bharat Mission. (Since I had extensive experience dealing with data, Namrata asked me to be a part of this project.) We travelled for 6-7 months, covering 26 cities across India, and when we got back, something had shifted within us after seeing problems so closely,” Purvi shared in a chat with MAKERS India.
During the course of this study, they learnt about gaps in menstrual hygiene amongst adolescent girls and women, sexual and reproductive health, and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) practices, and decided to design flagship programmes to find solutions to these problems.
One of their flagship initiatives, ‘Bleed and Learn Freely’ has been introduced to ensure proper Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and WASH facilities in government schools of Kolkata. They also have another programme called ‘Happy Period’ to establish the status quo around menstrual and sexual health.
The programme advocates gender-segregated washrooms with proper doors, wash facilities, vending machines, and proper disposal of sanitary waste, such as incinerators (manual or electric) and dustbins with lids.
Purvi, along with her team members, had interviewed 300 girls from five prominent government schools in Kolkata, before the nationwide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic came into effect.
“We have found that adolescent girls in government schools are clueless about menstrual hygiene products. We also realised that the infrastructure in these schools did not promote the growth of girls; neither did they know how to safely dispose sanitary napkins and other menstrual waste. All these factors collectively lead to high absenteeism amongst adolescent girls,” says Purvi.
Anahat has launched a campaign to demand proper review and monitoring of the infrastructure by the Department of Higher Education, West Bengal.
Focus on Sustainability
Anahat has always been an advocate of sustainability, and has aimed to provide employment to women who are part of their Self Help Groups (SHGs). Purvi tells MAKERS India about bringing these two goals together, “We saw it wasn’t easy for the girls in schools to dispose of these napkins - either they would throw it in some water body, or burn it. We found out about three materials that are used to make these cloth pads at a much lower rate.” And the best part is that 10-12 women from SHGs stitch these cloth pads, so it also provides them with livelihood. “We have so far trained more than 100 women from different organisations to stitch cloth pads and other sustainable products,” she added.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, their efforts temporarily came to a halt; but Purvi claims that they have resumed work in full force now. The NGO has rolled out more than 8,000 pads in the last three months, with the help of the women from their SHG groups. They also had help from several partners in the distribution of these products.
In the future, Anahat for Change is looking to increasingly work in the space of gender and sexuality in the times to come. They are also set to start a WASH campaign with UNICEF to spread awareness in urban and rural slums of Kolkata, where people live in close proximity and refrain from wearing masks.
The NGO seeks to continue uplifting women from vulnerable sections of society. After all, they believe in living up to their name ‘Anahat’ - that translates to ‘unhurt, unstuck, and unbeaten.
(Edited by Athira Nair)