At Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018, it is all about girl empowerment

Family Planning Association of India kick starts ‘Let’s get girls back to school’ campaign aimed to mobilise low cost, affordable sanitary napkins for girls from underprivileged background

Mumbai, January 16, 2018:  As thousands of running enthusiasts get ready for Asia’s biggest sporting event on January 21 – the Tata Mumbai Marathon - all eyes are on the biggest ever social initiative taken by India’s leading NGO to empower girls.

Family Planning Association of India (FPA India), India’s leading NGO in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, is participating in the Tata Mumbai Marathon with a unique campaign titled ‘Let’s get girls back to school’- aimed to mobilise low-cost, affordable sanitary napkins for young girls from underprivileged backgrounds. This is coupled with comprehensive sexuality education (including menstrual hygiene) for the girls.  

The data of girls dropping out of schools in India is very disturbing. According to 2011 census, 27% of girls have no access to menstrual hygiene products in schools, 20% of girls drop out of school due to periods (National Family Health Survey (2005-2006), which is the second major reason after household work for girls to miss school.

The ‘Let’s get girls back to school’ is under #RUN4FP and is aiming to reach one lakh girls. By shelling out a sum of Rs 1,080, any donor can empower these girls by ensuring a one year supply of sanitary napkins. This way, the girls do not miss school and also creates a healthy conversation around menstrual hygiene in the household.

The ‘Let’s get girls back to school’ campaign is also offering people to donate a sum of Rs 1080 each towards tackling anemia and empowering these girls with critical life skills. The hemoglobin level of some of these girls is so low that many find it difficult to concentrate in schools. No wonder, 53% of girls drop out of secondary school regularly and 47% of age 20-24 women are married before age of 18.

FPA India is providing girls with supplementary iron rich nutrition and basic understanding of low cost nutritious meals, to increase their HB levels, leading them to concentrate better at school. Apart from education, basic life skills such as personality development, confidence building, negotiation skills, critical thinking, etc. enables girls to be better prepared to deal with the circumstances in their lives and even negotiate with her parents to complete school.

“FPAI works in both in school and out of school settings, to ensure that the girls have complete knowledge about growing up. Thecomprehensive solution to a problem like this is not only providing information but also access to menstrual hygiene products. The need is not just health care services, but also commodities to normalize their periods.  We would like to remove the stigma around menstruation, create an enabling environment in communities, homes and schools and encourage discussions,” said Dr Kalpana Apte, Secretary General, FPA India.

A 13 girl contingent from the communities where FPA India works, will lead the campaign along with 125 members of FPA India including FPAI staff, volunteers, corporates, sports personalities in the dream run of Tata Mumbai Marathon this Sunday. Running for the cause are Shirin and Heena, who despite being good in studies, were not allowed to study owing to their family’s financial woes. FPA India’s Mumbai branch empowered them to convince their parents to allow them to join the bed side assistant course. Both are now working in Home Base Care, supporting their family with a monthly income of Rs 12,000.

Says Shirin, “Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and critical life-skills help adolescent girls to make the right choices for a healthy life.”  Adds Heena, “I want every girl to have access to sanitary napkins so that she does not have to undergo stress, fear, embarrassment or social exclusion during menstruation.” 18-year-old Sheetal, a first year college student, whose mother is a maid servant and father works at a shop, is able to study thanks to her family and FPA India support. “I know many girls who remain absent from school or drop out due to lack of sanitary napkins. This is a violation of their right to education and health,” she added.

The campaign is already motivating corporates as well as young Indians to come forward and donate. Youngsters Nishiki Varma, Gauravi Maurya, Rhea Anthonyraj and two others have together raised funds to the tune of Rs 3.24 lakhs for the cause.  “It was a pleasure collecting funds for underprivileged girls. I went from one shop to another – I told them that it is enough even if they give just Rs 100, but their contribution will go a long way. It is an honour and I am happy I took part in this initiative” said Gauravi, while Rhea stated that it made her feel great that she is enabling girls to exercise their basic right to education.

With its 43 branches across 18 Indian states putting their weight behind the ‘Let’s get girls back to school’ campaign, FPA India is addressing the very root cause why millions of Indian girls can’t attend school – household work, lack of sanitary napkins and anemia.