Menstrual Hygiene in Rural India: Devika K. Brings Education and Sustainability to Women in Rajasthan
For her Gold Award project, Devika, 18, from Girl Scouts of Central Texas, brought menstrual hygiene education to girls in rural Rajasthan, India. While visiting her home country, Devika discovered that 23 percent of girls in rural areas of India quit school because of the lack of information and resources to support menstruation. Almost immediately, she was compelled to take action.
Devika raised funds in her local community to purchase sanitary pad machines from a local Indian engineer, which she then took to remote villages in Rajasthan. These machines grind cotton, press the cotton into pads, and disinfect the pads. The women villagers were then taught how to operate the machine and create a business from selling the sanitary pads. The machine is made to be self-sustainable.
Additionally, Devika visited surrounding villages, where she conducted mini-workshops. She showed educational videos on menstruation and menstrual hygiene, answered questions, and discussed how the machine works. So not only did she provide these women with critical information and a safe space to discuss menstrual hygiene, she also made sure to provide them with a way to make a small income to sustain their lives. Talk about taking steps to create real, sustainable change!
This G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ is not about thinking small. Here’s what she had to say about her Gold Award project, and what Girl Scouting means to her!
Q: What does your Gold Award mean to you? Why did you pick this topic?
A: Earning my Gold Award has significantly changed the last couple of years of my life, because it’s opened doors for me. It’s given me a platform to connect to girls that are like-minded, and we all have this similar passion for change. Additionally I’ve gotten attention for this project, but that just means that I’ve been able to raise awareness about the issue, which makes me really excited.
I chose this project because I have first-hand experience seeing the lack of menstrual hygiene in India. When I was younger, I had just gotten my period, and I had taken a trip to India. I was fortunate enough to have brought materials with me, but I had started thinking, for girls in India, especially in rural India, what do they do? Every month, for a week, what do they do—because they don’t have the same access to commercial pads that we do.
Just going off of that, I started to get more and more involved as I did more research into the way that girls are deprived of basic sanitary menstrual hygiene, which I think is a fundamental right of every woman: to be able to be safe and clean when it comes to their period. Just stemming from the lack of education around menstrual hygiene, people in rural India think that it’s a disease, because they don’t learn about it, so they don’t understand that it’s a biological process, which leads to many outdated attitudes about menstrual hygiene. So in order to address that, that’s why I introduced the education piece, opened the discussion, and kind of made girls feel comfortable discussing their periods.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle you faced in completing your Gold Award project?
A: The biggest obstacle I had to face when going through my Gold Award project was the culture difference between India and America. So here [in America] there is a really large concept of volunteerism and service that’s really absent in India. There were language barriers, time zone barriers. Just trying to get anything done from overseas is kind of difficult in the first place, but then trying to get the community there, in India, to come and see the machine, and learn about it, that was a little bit difficult, because they didn’t understand it or why we were coming in to do this project. Also trying to tackle the taboo and the stigma, while staying within the conservative culture, you have to have a very good sense of what you want to achieve and who you want to send this message to. You have to reach them in a way that they’ll receive well.
Q: Where are you now, and what are your plans for the future?
A: I’m going to be a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, and my major is international relations and global studies, and for me, that is directly connected to my Gold Award project. It makes me really excited to connect my passions with my education. For me, that means the experience I got in doing my Gold Award is going to go directly into what I learn, and the mindset I’ll create in the next four years.
I was really fortunate to travel and meet these girls, and meet the women there who are in this situation and in this condition, and that opened my mind to the plight and the condition of women in different developing countries, which made me really passionate about creating change. I had to ask myself, “What is the best way for me to impact these women?” and for me, I think that’s through developmental economics and public policy.
Q: What does Girl Scouts mean to you?
A: Girl Scouts, especially during my Gold Award, has really changed the way I look at problems, and also taught me that a girl can go through a process, and follow the right kind of model that Girl Scouts has given us, and we can really make something impactful.
Girl Scouts has brought me into this network of girls who are really looking to empower each other through leadership. I will always remember campouts and selling cookies, but more so all of those great journeys we had, volunteering at food banks and pet shelters. Just the difference we made together is something I’ll cherish for a long time, because we were so young. In fourth grade I didn't understand what kind of impact I was making, but now looking back I am able to see that my journey of service started a long time ago, and Girl Scouting made that possible for me.
The way that Girl Scouts has kept up with changing times and the way it’s modernized to fit the needs of a modern girl in the 21st century, I think that’s really amazing.
Q: Which part of G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ do you most identify with?
A: When we talk about G.I.R.L., I can relate most to being a risk-taker. I think about being a risk-taker as being an empowered girl that knows that taking risks is what gets you places. For me, my project required a lot of risk, especially trying to do something overseas, but even just in my daily life, I think taking risks is what makes life fun. Being spontaneous and doing things that scare you, I think that’s what ends up showing you what you can do. You’ll end up surprising yourself when you take risks. Girl Scouts has definitely nurtured the risk-taker in me.