A bank for clean business

4 min read
Periods in Pandemic
Image: WaterAid/Dhiraj Singh

In the Gaya district of Bihar, Saba Khatoon and her friends are very particular about the functioning of their bank. Saba is just 14, and the bank is not the ordinary kind. “It is a pad bank,” she said with a lot of pride, “Our group of adolescent girls contribute Rs 5 per head and buy sanitary napkins which is kept in a box—the pad bank. When a girl is on her periods, she can take napkins from the pad bank.” The ‘bank’ is a simple cardboard box wrapped in some colourful paper, but its significance in ensuring menstrual hygiene and good health among the girls of this residential school—the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV)—is remarkable. 

Clearing the initial doubts

Girls education on hygiene
Image: WaterAid/Dhiraj Singh

Mridula Kumari, the hostel warden of this KGBV, for instance, said that most girls, when they first come here have never heard of a sanitary napkin. “One is because most of them have not attained their puberty when they first come. And second, because back in their homes in the village, they have mostly seen their mothers and other female relatives use cloth during menstruation,” she said. KGBV has classes 6-12.

Menstrual hygiene management, which means access to menstrual hygiene products and proper disposal of those products, is crucial towards ensuring good hygiene and therefore good health. Young girls like Saba, a student of class 8, are aware of this and also understand the fact that they must follow good hygiene practices always, and particularly during their menstrual cycle every month. This, said the warden, is the result of the awareness classes on MHM that the girls go through. “In these classes we explain the changes that take place in a girl’s body once she attains puberty, and how to take care of oneself during that time. We use poetry and draw similes with nature—like how a bud blooms—to explain things,” Kumari said. Many girls come to know of a ‘sanitary napkin’ for the first time in the school. “We tell them that there is a range of sanitary napkins in the market. One can choose a cheaper or an expensive napkin—what matters is the hygiene factor,” the warden went on to say, “Once they have used a pad, they say they feel confident to play and roam around during their periods without fear of staining their salwar (pants).”   

The bank is now open

While the government-run KGBV students are provided with sanitary napkins by the school, there are times when the supply does not come on time.  The idea of a pad bank—initiated by WaterAid India and its partner NGO, Pragati Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS)—therefore, appealed to the girls immediately because it ensures availability of sanitary napkins whenever they need it.

The girls also run a soap bank

“The soap bank and the pad bank started in our school around August-September last year,” Saba said, “Like the pad bank, our group collects Re 1 per head for the soap bank and puts in the soap bank box. With the money collected, we buy soaps, and whenever anyone needs one, she signs the register and takes it from the box.” The register, the girls say, is maintained with utmost dedication—every rupee collected and spent goes straight into the records; for transparency, they also stick the bills (of both pads and soaps bought) on the boxes. The bank believes in clean business—literally and figuratively. 

There are other things the core group of students who manage the banks take care of. For example, they have set a limit for every ‘transaction’. “One girl can take four pads at a time,” one of the students said, “And one soap a week. This is to wash one’s hands particularly before eating food and after using the toilet.”

The school was also provided with an incinerator for proper disposal of sanitary napkins in January last year. So instead of throwing them away, the girls put their pads in the incinerator, which burns them and only leaves behind ash.

“Sometimes when a girl has had her periods for the first time, she feels shy to come and ask me things,” the warden said, “Then I tell the other senior girls to share their experiences with her and tell her all about proper hygiene during this time.” The warden’s confidence in her students signify that the lesson has been learnt, that the torch has been passed for a healthier future.