Tribune News Service
Ludhiana, March 3
When people watch Bollywood movie ‘Padman’, starring Akshay Kumar, not many know the fact that the city has its own “padwoman” who has broken new ground with her unique initiatives, and given lakhs of women means to face their monthly natural cycle fearlessly, and lead a life of dignity.
Aman Preet, an IRS officer from Ludhiana, has rendered exceptional services for the welfare of women not only in Punjab but at least 18 states across the country by extending her hand in making available sanitary napkin vending machines, besides providing napkins to at least 20 lakh needy young girls and women.
Aman Preet had done a path-breaking work by taking up the unique initiative of providing sanitary napkins to rural and underprivileged girls and women.
Sharing her thoughts with The Tribune here today, the senior civil servant reminisces that the idea behind manufacturing sanitary pads and installation of napkin vending machines was to provide affordable napkins to women, particularly those settled in rural areas where women still use traditional methods during their menstrual cycle every month.
The aim was to raise the hygiene level of women and girls, especially in villages where, due to lack of awareness, financial problems and social stigma, little efforts had been made to provide sanitary napkins. Napkin vending machines, christened ‘Sakhi’, were installed in various schools as girls used to feel shy to purchase them from vendors. Besides, such machines were also put to use at women police stations, prisons, observatory and shelter homes, ashrams, fuel stations and other public places to provide napkins without any cost to needy women.
Today, one such vending machine was inaugurated at Baddowal village, near here.
“I started the initiative from Nthari village in Uttar Pradesh during the Covid-induced lockdown,” she said.
She started providing them sanitary napkins as no NGO till then was distributing the essential commodity and due to lockdown, there was a huge scarcity of menstrual products.
The initiative, called ‘Durga Shakti’, which was started to provide relief supplies of sanitary pads, soon became a pan-India initiative to create awareness about the topic and start the conversation so that people can break taboos and start switching over to healthy menstrual products.
“The Covid pandemic had a huge impact on the menstruating population. Lockdown, movement restrictions and closures of health facilities, schools and colleges affected the access to sexual and reproductive health services along with availability of proper menstrual products. The economic fallout further impacted lives of those who menstruated,” the 2010-batch IRS officer said.
Amid Covid when several social organisations, NGOs, and individuals stood up to help the needy and vulnerable sections of society with food, clothes, sanitisers, and face masks, Aman decided to reach out to women across the country to help them with their menstrual needs. “I tried to make people realise that pads are also essential as food and masks as “periods don’t stop in the pandemic,” she quipped.
Her untiring efforts made men and women talk about importance of menstrual hygiene along with personal hygiene during the pandemic and she has reached over 20 lakh women in 18 states, including the remotest areas of the country, and 50 per cent of the beneficiaries were those who used the sanitary pads for the first time.
“At many places, people refused to distribute sanitary pads, saying: “Yeh gandi chiz hum nahin baant sakte” and some people even refused to take ration if sanitary napkins were given along with it. Some women said they need to take permission from their husbands and in-laws to take the pads and some taking supplies for their daughters stated “didi yeh mehngi cheez hai, bachi use kar legi, mere liye kapda hi theek hai” while telling horrendous stories of how they were using discarded clothes of house to stop the menstrual blood to spill over,” she revealed.
In Punjab and Hyderabad, the sanitary napkins were sent to many needy girls and women through anganwari workers.
Several shelter homes, prisons, women police stations, ashrams, observatory homes, kusht ashrams, homes for specially-abled women and girls have also been supplied pads.
In Punjab, menstrual products were distributed at all 14 prisons where women inmates were lodged during the lockdown. All 20 police stations in Arunachal Pradesh, Tihar and Meerut jails were also provided with such supplies.
The campaign aims to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene management and promote the usage of sanitary napkins among women.
A door-to-door survey was conducted to analyse the practices of women during periods and various stereotypes that were required prevailing in society.
“Nowadays, people affectionately call me “didi”. I receive messages from across the country to cater to the supply of sanitary napkins for which I am on a mission mode to end “period poverty” and trying to make the accessibility of menstrual products to the underprivileged women in a dignified way,” she expressed, while adding: “Let’s normalise periods by starting a conversation about menstrual health as a healthy woman will definitely raise a healthy family.”
Know the city ‘pad woman’
A 2010-batch IRS officer posted as Joint Commissioner, Income Tax, New Delhi, Aman Preet was born and brought up in Ludhiana. Her late mother Paramjeet Kaur was a Ludhiana jail superintendent and father Rachhpal Singh retired as engineer-in-chief from Punjab State Power Corporation Limited. Her seven-year-old daughter Prisha is also a philanthropist at heart. For her exemplary work during the Covid-induced lockdown, she was awarded by Union Civil Aviation, Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri recently. She was also an integral part of the Covid response team constituted by Income Tax officers to help the needy.
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