Read our interview with the RutuChakra team below! All images provided by RutuChakra.
Can you tell us about RutuChakra’s beginnings? Please give us some info on the organization’s background, who founded it, and how they had the idea to start the initiative.
Sanjana comes from a philanthropic family, and as a part of her family’s tradition she celebrates special occasions (birthdays, festivals, etc.) with individuals at various organizations. It was during one such visit, that the idea behind RutuChakra was born.
It was her 16th birthday and she had gone to an orphanage to celebrate. Here, Sanjana happened to use their washroom, and although it was decently maintained, it immediately set off some questions – ‘How do these children maintain their hygiene? How do they manage their menstruation?’ She discussed her thoughts with her family, did some research and called the founder.
She told Sanjana that while several people would come forward to donate books, toys, stationery, little to nobody would come forward to donate or fund something as important as menstrual products.
Moreover, a majority of their funding went into administration and education, with limited funds towards healthcare. The menstruators, in the absence of resources, would resort to using unhygienic alternatives. That really struck a nerve! As a menstruator herself, she couldn’t imagine having her periods without the right resources or information on how to manage them.
She believes that every menstruator has the right to manage their period with dignity, and thus, to tackle this issue she started an initiative on menstruation which became ‘RutuChakra‘ in the coming months – an organization promoting personal and menstrual hygiene amongst menstruators of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, the word RutuChakra literally stands for the words ‘menstrual cycle’ in Sanskrit. It was her grandfather who actually came up with the name.
What is RutuChakra’s mission? What is the non-profit all about?
RutuChakra’s mission is to ensure that every menstruator is able to menstruate with dignity. Historically periods, and those experiencing them, have been viewed as unclean and dirty, resulting in a stereotypical discrimination of menstruators in various shapes and forms.
When such topics are off the table, or are misrepresented, it highlights that the access to relevant education, choice and proper healthcare is too. Right now, there are people all over the world who are too afraid to talk to their doctor, who do not have access to safe and hygienic period products, who are putting their bodies in dangerous situations because of the stigma and lack of education.
In India alone, over 88% (360 million) menstruators don’t have access to hygienic menstrual products, in the absence of which they resort to using several unhygienic alternatives such as hay, mud, clay, etc. 45% still believe that menstruation is a curse/disease; 1 in every 5 menstruators drops out of school on getting their period.
RutuChakra aims to change that! We aim to build a society where menstruation is not thought of as a curse, nor a disease but rather as a welcoming change in an individual’s body. We do three main things:
- Provide a regular supply of menstrual products to areas and individuals in need
- Empower individuals through knowledge: through workshops and follow up sessions (in all sectors of society)
- We have a very inclusive model with special workshops designed to cater to the needs of menstruators with disabilities, down syndrome, blind, etc. along with their families.
- Promote better awareness amongst all genders to overcome embarrassment, cultural practices, taboos around this topic
How large is the non-profit now?
RutuChakra currently has over 200 volunteers and over 20 chapters pan-India.
Can you tell us about RutuChakra’s different projects? What has the organization accomplished and what impact has this made?
RutuChakra has so far distributed over 200,000+ menstrual products helping over 12,000+ menstruators, with over 140,000+ products distributed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. By providing menstrual products, RutuChakra is able to ensure that menstruators have a safe and hygienic period thereby reducing the risk of infections and other detrimental effects on a menstruator’s health.
We have conducted 50+ workshops and follow up sessions in rural areas, and ‘Period Talk’ sessions in urban areas. By ensuring access to information and knowledge and normalising the topic of ‘Menstruation’, RutuChakra has started a much-needed and more inclusive conversation surrounding Periods and Reproductive Health. This makes menstruators feel more empowered by their periods, confident in their own bodies and ready to fight the menstrual discrimination thereby stopping the cycle of menstrual discrimination and myths from continuing. We have witnessed great success stories through our workshops, campaigns, social media, etc. and we intend to keep working hard to increase those numbers.
RutuChakra stands for sustainable menstruation and menstrual inclusivity recognizing that women, some transgenders, and nonbinary individuals menstruate; and are also working with other organizations to build a comprehensive sex education curriculum to be introduced in schools. We also help individuals of all ages in urban areas recognise their role in the menstrual movement whether it’s through open conversations, letters to policymakers, donations, etc.
Additionally, RutuChakra’s Chapter Program empowers individuals to start chapters in their local communities to aid menstruators and spread awareness in surrounding areas. Through our work, we try to ensure that every menstruator is able to menstruate with dignity; accounting for their physical, emotional, social and mental wellbeing.
How did you adapt during the pandemic?
With the pandemic, RutuChakra had to completely shift to a remote setting of creating an impact and operating as an organization. Since most of our work till that point was ground-level impact
and required coming in contact with the menstruators, we really had to brainstorm on how to continue creating an impact during this time. We created a system connecting the manufacturing and transportation channels to provide menstrual products to menstruators in need, while conducting workshops virtually via zoom.
As the pandemic continued over the past two years, we have slowly started looking into in-person options while ensuring that both our volunteers and the menstruators are completely safe at all points of time. Even through the lockdown, Rutuchakra has been making an impact, using and improving its several online platforms to continuously spread knowledge about menstruation such as sustainable menstruation, menstrual products, myth busting, etc.
With the help of these platforms, RutuChakra also aims to form and expand a safe space online and offline where anyone can talk about their concerns, doubts and insecurities freely without any judgement. They have conducted multiple webinars such as those on trans menstruation, PCOS/ PCOD, etc. to open relevant conversations in our country. Additionally, 140,000+ products have been distributed during the pandemic.
What do your responsibilities include? Can you describe how you balance your time?
As the Founder and Executive Director of RutuChakra, I mainly oversee and manage the overall administration, resources, programs, and strategic direction. Since we have an incredible, dedicated team with a great delegation of responsibilities, we are able to balance both RutuChakra work and college work simultaneously, although it may get a little difficult from time to time. I make a plan at the start of every week and divide my time amongst all my commitments to try and ensure that I am able to meet all my deadlines.
What have been the biggest challenges of running RutuChakra?
The biggest challenge is definitely changing the societal narrative surrounding menstruation, the irrational myths and the flawed belief system. At RutuChakra we do our best to overcome this challenge through our multiple workshops and follow up sessions targeting a diverse audience, promoting awareness through our social media and campaigns. We are also constantly brainstorming, researching and coming up with new methods to tackle this issue.
Second challenge was age. Being teenagers, we are often not taken seriously and as a result denied potential opportunities/ collaborations because we are ‘too young’. But, we believe that ‘your work should speak for itself’. So when people start to work with us and understand that we are professional and passionate about what we do, we are able to change that belief and become trustworthy partners. We think facing such challenges, although inconvenient, gives us the opportunity to learn and grow. Every time a challenge is thrown at us, we constantly remind ourselves why we do what we do, and it gives us the strength to continue fighting against this stigma.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect is knowing that we are creating an impact in the lives of people and changing individuals’ perception on menstruation. For instance, during one of our workshops, the menstruators who were hesitant in talking about menstruation in the beginning asked us when we were going to have a session with all the boys regarding this as they want to start having an open conversation; and that truly gave us a lot of satisfaction.
What is your best advice to other students who want to launch an initiative like this?
I think that everyone should engage in community service in any way possible. If you have a roof over your head, three meals a day, and access to a good education, you are more privileged than most of society. It is important to channel this privilege to uplift the vulnerable individuals in society.
Additionally, age is just a number! Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t make an impact in your community because you are too ‘young’ or too ‘old’ to do something. Trust your gut, and create a space of collaboration rather than competition in this area.
What does the future hold for RutuChakra and for the RutuChakra team?
RutuChakra’s primary focus for the next few years is on building a comprehensive sex education curriculum to be introduced in schools across the country and introducing governmental reforms to ensure menstrual product accessibility for all menstruators. This includes accounting for all menstruators regardless of their gender and promoting the usage of reusable menstrual products (which are more beneficial for the environment and individual’s body).
Additionally, RutuChakra is also working to create a collective of all the menstrual health organizations and advocates to build a collaborative movement and helpful resource pool. We will also continue to build on our chapter program so that more individuals will get empowered to aid menstruators in their community. Our end goal is to eventually achieve menstrual equity and put a PERIOD to the stigma.