Issue: Gender Equality
Roy Keshav Sharma (20, Bihar, India) has devoted himself to raising awareness about menstruation in his home state of Bihar, India. Roy seeks to break the culture of silence around the topic to ensure that proper sanitary products are available for individuals that menstruate. In India, there remains a sense of shame around menstruation, where about 60% of menstruating girls and women do not have access to sanitary pads or tampons. Access to sanitary products increases a girl’s likelihood to stay in school. Even though Roy grew up with three older sisters, menstruation was always the elephant in the room. To achieve his objectives, Roy organizes events in Bihar’s girls’ high schools, where he invites local politicians and media, and engages them in dialogue over the issue. Roy is also determined to lower the cost of menstrual products so that they are more readily available in rural areas.
In Bihar, sex education at school is very limited, leaving much ambiguity and a lack of understanding around menstruation. It was not until Roy started interning at GOONJ, an NGO that specializes in recycling used cloth, where Roy began working with the team that developed menstrual pads from recycled cloth that are more environmentally friendly than the disposable alternatives. Using his new knowledge around menstruation, Roy began to advocate for women and girls, using the hashtag “#chuppitodo,” meaning “Break the Silence,” to raise a voice against traditional taboos to eliminate the stigma attached to this natural biological process. He visits villages to talk with doctors, school principals, and locals to encourage them to change their approach to menstruation. Roy is also lobbying to abolish India’s 12% tax on sanitary products. They are categorized as luxury items, rendering products unaffordable to lower income individuals.