Ananya Chhaochharia is the founder of ‘Paint it Red’, an organization which empowers womxn** from rural and urban slums to voice themselves about menstruation. Ananya and her team organise workshops on menstrual hygiene, spreading awareness on issues that are still considered a taboo in modern Indian society.
Their periphery and domain of their work encapsulate not only speaking, interacting and educating people on menstrual health and sanitation but also enabling rural womxn and womxn from urban slums to access sustainable and environmentally friendly sanitary products. Apart from this, as a non-profit organisation, they aim to empower womxn in a manner that they are comfortable with their bodies and their period cycles. Through this organisation and its reach, they hope to sensitize society about womxn’s issues.
We speak to Ananya about her journey, what the youth of India perceives of menstrual health and how we can create inclusivity through awareness and education. We also spoke extensively about how taboos can be left past, myths can be demystified and how, as an organization, Paint It Red has worked during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/paintitred.ind
Official Site: https://www.paintitred.in/?fbclid=IwAR2OPxqvLcsm1UQBJcH90KI-LOFuTi5Wv0XPCH3YW7RIx0PHVKsfKDCPD4Q
Founder’s Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/ananya.05
Co-Founder’s Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/khannargis
Excerpts from the interview:
- Tell me about how and why you started the organisation Paint It Red:
To begin with, I started this non-profit organisation in September 2019 after I decided to quit my full-time job. I was travelling extensively in Buxar, Bihar, for doing fieldwork when I noticed that there was no pharmacy where I could avail sanitary products in a stretch of about 250kms. Even after reaching the head village, I could not get hold of a pharmacy. The village womxn took me to a small hut where I could change. That was my first real experience where I saw how periods are used as a tool to discriminate between genders and how the sheer poverty in those areas have shunned them from using menstrual care products, that are cheap and easily accessible besides dealing with the constant pressure to talk to peers and family members about periods or even the consistent taboo of wrapping sanitary products in black plastic. As privileged women, we often tend to forget these problems because we take it for granted because it is so easy for us to access a pharmacy in an urban scenario. Most people in these extreme rural areas still use traditional methods during periods. After this incident in Bihar, I decided to quit my job and started this as a passion project. Nargis Khan, the Co-founder, Paint It Red, joined me then while pursuing her Master Degree Programme in Public Relations from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has always been a shining star and has helped me gather operations for this project. Nargis and I have been college friends, proud feminists and had always wished to start our passion project aiming to do something for womxn and menstrual health in India.
- What are the key focus areas of Paint It Red?
Our primary focus is to educate as many people as we can, on menstrual hygiene. We generally try to engage with them through meaningful conversations about menstruation. A startling fact is that, in India, 77% of adolescents do not know or aren’t aware of periods before they start to bleed. More than 70% are still discriminated against at religious institutions. We also try to educate them about their bodies from a young age so that they are aware of themselves and the changes that their bodies go through. We also hope that they don’t get bombarded with misinformation and stigmas that their earlier generation went through. We organise small workshops where we not only speak to young girls but also to adults and married and pregnant womxn. We started off with our hometown – West Bengal, where we covered the villages and urban slums and then moved on to other parts in India.
- When you started travelling to villages, and started speaking to womxn, what were their immediate questions? Was the concept of ‘menstrual cups’ completely alien to them? Was their complete support from their households to attend the workshops you organised?
With menstrual cups, what we experienced is young womxn who have just got married or have recently given birth to children are the ones who are relatively more inclined towards them. We encourage young girls to attend these workshops along with their mothers, but in most cases, the parents are daily wage earners who cannot afford to take time off to attend such workshops. That is a very prominent backlash. In addition, in rural areas, young girls mostly depend on their mothers to decide for them whether they can use menstrual cups. The majority slides towards attending workshops but not immediately trusting the benefits of availing menstrual cups. So, we also try to encourage mothers to tag along and join our sessions because we, as an organisation, most definitely need to create an inclusive environment for all entities involved.
- Tell me about how you worked as an organisation when Covid-19 broke out:
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, which was extremely sudden and alarming, Paint it Red aimed to create access to cloth pads in rural belts where the supply of menstrual products is limited. The economic and social restrictions of the pandemic furthered period poverty, increasing health risks to menstruating women, especially migrant workers, daily wage earners, young mothers and trans people. Cloth pads, crafted with layers of leak-proof materials, are a sustainable and economically more viable alternative. The tenacity of the reusable cloth pads empower women for the entire duration of this uncertain period. The easy-dry poplin lining makes two pads sufficient for a menstrual cycle. A cloth pad can be effective for almost over three years. Paint it Red partnered with 6 grassroots organisations for the production of cloth pads and 25 organisations which carried out the distribution. They are providing livelihood to womxn residing in urban slums of Kolkata/Delhi by involving them in the production process. We created kits consisting of 3 pads with an illustrative instruction manual. In 75 days, Paint it Red distributed 56000 cloth pads to 11000 womxn across 6 states during the pandemic.
- Tell me something about a few of your drives and campaigns:
As I said, our drives and campaigns focus mostly on engaging and aiming towards working for sustainable menstruation. Here are a few of our drives and collaborations:
Pin Your Period
Pin your Period is an initiative by Paint it red in collaboration with ‘Say in with a Pin’. It is one of India’s first menstruation-themed pins. With every purchase of this pin, one womxn’s complete menstrual needs for 2 years are covered. These womxn belong to marginalised communities in India without access to sanitary products. The pins that are designed by Jayesh Sachdev and Priyanka Hardikar will create awareness by breaking taboos and starting conversations.
Talk Period To Me
‘Talk Period to Me’ was a series of engaging dialogues in collaboration with TruCup and Paint It Red, working for sustainable menstruation. The conversational series aimed to explore intersectionalities of menstrual health, encouraging participants to turn inward, undo prejudices, and explore nuances with diverse global experts. We hosted Akshat Madan from AryaMarga Yoga Institute, who gave us invaluable insights into understanding the elemental body and how to align our chakras for better health. We were also joined by Carolyn Theresa Simon who followed up with a refreshing Vinyasa flow practice for our participants. We also delved into understanding a non-binary perspective on menstruation with Transactivist & India’s first Drag King, Durga Gawde, and Vyjanati Vasanta Mogli, transgender RTI Activist & Co-founder, Queer Swabhimana Yatra (QSY) & Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti (THITS), moderated by Pragya Roy from Feminism in India. Sally King from UK-based non-profit organisation, Menstrual Matters, decoded mental health and PMS, along with Dona Esteban, a Manila-based women’s well-being counsellor. To understand policy aspirations, we invited Hon’ble Rajya Sabha member and Deputy Leader of Shiv Sena, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Founder, Citizens for Public Leadership, Prateek Kanwal. The series witnessed participation from over 100+ participants over the course of 6 weeks.
Painted It Red X Art Rickshaw presents an Art for #BleedInPeace series to support Paint it Red’s efforts in providing reusable cloth pads to distressed communities due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. We had 7 artists from across the country supporting us by donating their artwork for an exclusive sale on social media handles. We raised over INR 50,000 through this fundraiser in 2 weeks.
The term Womxn (/ˈwʊmɪnks/), used by some feminists, especially in the intersectional feminist movement, is one of several alternative spellings of the English word woman. It is used to avoid the spelling woman (which contains and derives from the word men), and to foreground transgender, nonbinary, and women of colour. (Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Womxn)