Talking period inequality in India with Sanitation First CEO Tirukurungudi Santhanam Padmapriya

Tirukurungudi Santhanam Padmapriya, CEO Sanitation First
Tirukurungudi Santhanam Padmapriya, CEO at Sanitation First

Since 2010, Sanitation First has been battling period poverty in India, which currently causes a shocking 1 in 5 menstruating children to drop out of school when they start their periods. During India’s surging COVID-19 crisis, it is feared this number will rise further. So, Sanitation First is taking a stand, launching an emergency appeal ‘CODE RED’ to raise much needed funds.

To do so Sanitation First have reworked feminist icon Barbara Kruger’s artwork Untitled (Your Body is a Battle Ground) as an IG filter. Created in 1989 for the pro-choice march on Washington, the work still resonates. Decades and hemispheres apart, it stands against taboos, for empowerment, health, dignity, and a future without poverty. They’re asking supporters to post a story with the filter, donate £5 and tag five friends.

Here we dive deeper by asking Tirukurungudi Santhanam Padmapriya some questions about Sanitation First, the campaign and their mission to end period inequality...

How do Sanitation First work to keep children in schools when they start their periods?

Our approach is threefold: we educate children and school teachers around periods, because whilst children are taught about the other systems in the human body, the reproductive system is often presented as a self-study option— teachers do not feel comfortable discussing the subject in class. We provide reusable antimicrobial sanitary products to all the children who have periods at school. These are called SafePads and they are brilliant because their material technology allows one to wash them in dirty water and they repel all bacteria. Lastly, we build eco-san toilets, so children have somewhere to change their pads with privacy and dignity.

How has COVID-19 made your work more urgent?

With the onset of COVID and all it brought with it— the fall in income, the closing down of schools, many women lost access to menstrual pads.

Along with focusing on how important general hygiene is in keeping oneself and others safe, we have also continued our menstrual hygiene training programmes and have focused on the distribution of SafePads to vulnerable communities.

What are the aims of the campaign?

CODE RED is aiming to raise £100,000 in order to reach between 2-3000 more children. It will also help us continue to create sustainable hand washing stations and give out Safe Pads to those of all ages, who have found themselves without alternatives during the pandemic.

What effect does this have?

Children no longer dread going to school during their cycle, they also mentioned having tried to break social taboos at home— they spoke to their mothers and grandmothers about the myths related to menstruation, asking them to not follow them anymore!

How can the Diem communities support CODE RED?

The first thing we are asking is to post a selfie with the Code Red Filter (on Friday 28th – then tag 5 friends and donate £5. But if social media isn’t your thing we’ve also got a number of incredible artists and brands supporting us in different ways, from virtual running clubs to knitting raffles. Get crafty with Cara Marie Piazza X Desmond and Dempsey’s natural dying session, or bag cult jeweler Anissa Kermiche’s golden drop Lady Day earrings, the profits of which go to CODE RED. For more ways to be involved, head over to Sanitation First here.

You can fund all their work via a donation to Sanitation First here.

Meet Priya and learn about Sanitation First's work in the Diem app

at 10am EST / 3PM BST on Menstrual Hygiene Day, Friday, May 28th.