Geeta Bora is the founder of Pune-based Spherule Foundation, a social initiative that among others, conducts awareness programmes on menstrual hygiene across India. Geeta saw that for any normal middle class woman living in a city in India, getting sanitary napkins when she menstruates is not a big deal. With so many multinational companies selling sanitary napkins, urban women don’t have to worry about hygiene issues related with menstruation. But poor women whether in small cities or in rural area, who are not sure whether they will get two meals a day for themselves buying a packet of sanitary napkins Rs. 40 during her periods is unimaginable. To make it worse, the menstrual taboos in Indian society do not let a woman find her own ways out to maintain a hygiene for herself during menstruation.
Geeta Bora also realized tat currently in India, only 12 % of the 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins. The remaining 88% are unable to afford this basic necessity of their life. These poor women use unhygienic things like newspaper, sand, leaves, mud or rags! Such unhygienic conditions cause Itching, Burning, Vaginal and Urinary Tract Infections, Infertility and other reproductive health complications. It may also lead to Cervical Cancer and even death during child birth. Cervical cancer kills nearly 73,000 women in India every year.
Geeta Bora is a software engineer by profession. She was herself a privileged woman. She completed her Masters and P hd in Computer Science in India and worked in an organisation called ETH (Education to Home) for 6 years. She has been a Project leader for many software projects based upon e-learning and digitization of education. In search of better career prospects, she moved to US in 2009. In November 2016, Geeta was working in the US as a software architect when she decided to take a long holiday. That trip to India changed her life and helped her make a difference to not only her life but that of others’ as well.
“I heard about an incident in Shikoabad, a small village in Uttar Pradesh where a 42-year-old woman died because she used a blouse as a sanitary napkin. She died of tetanus when the metal hook of the blouse entered her body. The incident shocked me and thought I should come back to India and do something in this direction,” Geeta Bora
So Geeta left her job to come back to India and started the Spherule Foundation in Pune, a social initiative that among others, conducts awareness programmes on menstrual hygiene in schools, colleges, orphanages, slums, villages, and communities across the country. After completing her Masters in Computer Science, she joined ETH (Education to Home) Research Lab, and worked with Vijay Bhatkar.
“In 2002, we created a software system with which we could take education to remote and poor students through virtual sessions over a desktop webcam. The then President of India APJ Abdul Kalam visited us, and guided us further. I will always remember what he told me, that real contentment is not in success or wealth, you can get it by giving and helping others,” Geeta says.
After spending nine years in the US, she returned to India with ‘social change’ on her mind.
“Women and children are often the most oppressed, and their needs and rights must be central to eliminating it. We are currently focusing more on issues related to them and outlining our social initiatives accordingly,” Geeta Bora
According to Geeta, menstruation is a topic nobody really talks about. “People keep whispering about it, but we are making every attempt to say it loud to the point where it’s not awkward. Many of them know the benefits of using sanitary napkins but it’s just that they cannot afford it,” she adds. To bridge the gap between affordable and unaffordable Spherule Foundation began distributing ‘Stri’ sanitary napkin, high in quality, but low in cost, only Rs 300 for an entire year’s supply. It may also build its own factory in the near future.
“I used to meet many families who earlier used to consider menstruation as an unclean act. They didn’t want their girls and women to discuss menstrual hygiene in public. But now, I can see lot of improvement in their perspective. Even schools are coming forward to invite us to take sessions for the girl students. The biggest difference that I am noticing is many women, after these sessions, have started using sanitary napkins and are also comfortable in their experiences.”
Geeta Bora feels boys and girls both need to be educated about menstruation. “We cannot afford to have another generation of boys and men who are misinformed about menstruation. I have taken sessions in prestigious schools and found boys laughing or joking on this topic. Who prepares these boys on how to react when a girl accidentally stains her dress or uniform? There is something we need to correct in our parenting and teaching too.”
The Foundation is also crowdfunding to create a colorful, illustrated, educational yet entertaining comic book ‘MoonTime’ for young girls.
“Comics visually display narration and create more impact on young minds, and remain etched in one’s memory for a longer time. So, we came up with a creative idea of writing a children and a teenage-friendly book that will make young girls aware of all the facts relating to periods. Menstruation is also known as Moontime in Native American culture, and so we felt it is the most positive word for menstruation, as it represents the power of birth and power of life. It is an attempt to break the cycle of myths and misconceptions related to menstruation,” says Geeta Bora.
According to Geeta awareness on menstruation hygiene needs to be continuous and consistent for far-reaching impact. When asked if a film like Padman which is based on the life of social entrepreneur Arunachalam Murugunantham who developed low-cost napkins, could help in changing perceptions, Geeta says:
“Cinema can play a crucial role in changing the society’s common perception about sensitive social issues. It’s good but by just making a single film we cannot get rid of misconceptions, it’s a continuous process and we will have to work together for it.”
Awareness about menstruation is the main agenda at Spherule Foundation. “We dream of a future where menstruation is not taboo, but a welcome transition into womanhood for girls where they refuse to be treated as less capable, weaker, dirty or impure. It’s high time we speak openly about menstruation in India, we truly need to quash the taboos one at a time,” Geeta Bora says hopefully.