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The student media campaign fighting period poverty in Pakistan

BY Saba Choudrey

18th Oct 2022 Good News

The student media campaign fighting period poverty in Pakistan

A student led digital media campaign is raising funds and sending sanitary relief kits for flood affected women in Pakistan

When disaster hits, women become vulnerable to abuse, physical violence and contagious diseases in developing countries. In response to recent flooding, two young girls from Pakistan started a digital campaign to send sanitary pads to affected women.

"Due to recent flooding, many women and young girls in Pakistan lack access to menstrual hygiene"

Pakistan is ranked the second-worst country on the Global Gender Gap Index, meaning it scores extremely low for gender equality. Earlier this year, flash floods hit major parts of Pakistan. The calamity brought danger not only to young girls but also to pregnant women. According to UNFPA about 650,000 pregnant women required maternal care. In addition, many women and girls require health care after almost one million houses were damaged. 

Evidence shows that women are more likely to suffer the impacts of disaster, and due to the floods in Pakistan, many women and young girls lack access to menstrual hygiene.  

Fighting taboos 

Working for period relief is a huge taboo in Pakistan, especially on social media. Periods are stigmatised, and few dare to speak about them.  

"Mahwari Justice" ("Period Justice" in English) is a student led movement started by Bushra and Anum on social media in Pakistan. Bushra and Anum have provided menstrual kits to 50,000 women in flood affected areas, and raised more than $60,000 through gofundme. Despite creating great change, their work has faced criticism.

Period poverty kit

Example of a menstrual kit

"Periods have been stigmatised so much in our society that when I started this campaign online we were met with lot of backlash, even from within our own families," says Bushra Mahnoor. She is the 22 year old co-founder of Mahwari Justice, a women’s rights activist and a student of psychology at Punjab University.

"My family does not support the work I am doing. When we went to flood affected areas, men would say things like, we don’t want these things. Women and their needs are dismissed in our society. When we don’t talk about period poverty in marginalised communities, we also ignore the underlying health issues that come with it."

A lack of support 

The problem is so deep rooted that when organisers tried to reach out to sanitary pad companies, many were unwilling to help or compromise on their profits. "When I contacted these companies, one of them only donated 150 pads. Meanwhile, the team of both students distributed 12,000 kits without any help," adds Bushra. 

"Women and their needs are dismissed in our society"

"When we see basic realities, we see that there is nothing more important than women’s reproductive health," says Anum Khalid, a student and co-founder of Mahwari Justice. She adds, "I was very shy while starting work for the period relief campaign. People make comments about our 'feminist agenda'. Even my mother said Mahwari (Period) is a shameless word."

The power of social media 

Despite the criticism, social media helped the team to run their campaign. 

"There were Twitter trends that said our efforts should be stopped as sanitary products are not more important than food and water, but with the support of people both online and offline, our campaign has been able to provide 50,000 sanitary kits. We aim to reach even more women. Every sanitary pack includes soap, underwear and pain killers," Anum shares.

She adds, "Social media helped a lot. We coordinated through social media, and our finances increased thanks to social media. Bushra and I were originally social media friends and we had never met in real life. Social media helped us mobilise, campaign, grow and learn. Our funds were raised through social media, too. We are still doing different posts to build connection." 

"The thing I like about Mahwari Justice is its name. It broke the taboo against period. First it was limited to a few women, but now it has become the voice of every woman, especially women who helped us with packing the kits. Girls who were hesitant to talk about periods now feel empowered. They approach us through social media and talk about it openly. They tell us they want to help and volunteer."

"Girls who were hesitant to talk about periods now feel empowered"

About 30 volunteers are attached with the Period Justice campaign at this time. "My experience at Mahwari Justice has been amazing. I never felt I am an outsider because our sisterhood helped me in learning and sorting out data. Working with Bushra and Anum has felt like a home. I learned a lot while volunteering," says a young volunteer, Eiman Shakil. 

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