When we entered 2020, none of us predicted spending more than half the year in a nation wide lockdown. The Government of Nepal(GON) issued a lockdown from March 24 with the aim of protecting the citizens from the COVID-19 virus. With no vaccine or cure found for the virus, we all learned to adapt—from masks and sanitizers to work from home becoming a necessity. Just like many other businesses, the pandemic led Pad2Go to revise its mode of operation and make necessary changes. It also gave us an opportunity to reflect and try alternate forms of advocacy within the social enterprise.
On May 23, 2020, Pad2Go held its very first international webinar: “The Red Dot: Menstrual health management in South Asia”. Nine menstrual health activists from all eight SAARC nations present at the webinar discussed the differences and similarities in the experience and challenges of menstruating individuals across South Asia. The event saw prominent figures from international organizations, social enterprises, and representatives of the LGBTQIA+ community. The speakers were Ms Zahida Stanekzai (UNICEF, Afghanistan), Ms Munia Islam (Astha Foundation, Bangladesh), Ms Deki Tshering (Ministry of Education, Bhutan), Ms Soumya Dabriwal (Project Baala, India), Ms Aminath Azlifa (Society for Health Education, Maldives), Mr Suman Tamang (Blue Diamond Society, Nepal), Ms Shubhanhi Rana (Pad2Go, Nepal), Ms Sumaira Lokhandwala (HER, Pakistan), and Ms Sonali Gunaskera (Family Planning Association, Sri Lanka). The event was moderated by Pad2Go co-founder, Ms Jesselina Rana. It was an insightful experience that allowed us to learn new perspectives from various unique experiences while also developing an understanding of the MHM sector in South Asia. (You may watch the webinar here).
In June, our co-founder Ms. Jesselina Rana, was also selected as one of five Youth Leaders advancing Social Cohesion and Reducing Harmful Practices through Innovations by UN Women, Nepal as part of the national-level 6th Gender in Humanitarian Action Task Team meeting. The meeting aimed to make policy recommendations to the Ministry of Women, Children & Social Welfare to counter the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on gender minorities. Ms. Rana recommended and emphasized on the importance of including menstrual health products in the emergency goods list, especially during a pandemic. The pandemic has demonstrated a scarcity of menstrual products, with packets of sanitary napkins flying off the shelves when the lockdown was first announced. The lockdown also further proved to reduce accessibility of menstrual health supplies with schools and shops remaining closed and the monthly income of many being affected due to loss of jobs. At a time when one should be attentive to their health, this posed a significant risk to Menstruating Individuals(MIs) across Nepal.
While a nation wide lockdown was imposed, tens of thousands of migrant workers were left stranded at the border without proper access to necessary supplies. Many people contributed for necessities like food and water, and organizations like BlinkNow helped reach them to the people in need. Pad2Go’s #PassOnThePad campaign, in collaboration with KtmShapers, urged people to help provide menstrual supplies for the returning migrant workers. The campaign raised a total of NRs 41,400, with Nepalese Youth Entrepreneurs Forum donating NRs 20,000. Pad2Go worked with BlinkNow in order to reach the sanitary pads to the people at the borders to ensure access to safe and hygienic menstrual health products. However, the GoN is yet to include menstrual products as an emergency good.
In fact, the GoN counts menstrual products as a luxury good, and consumers have to pay a VAT of 13% on them. This adds an unnecessary and discriminatory burden on MIs, while discouraging the use of hygienic menstrual products. In a country still battling menstrual stigma and period poverty, it is crucial for the law to take steps that will increase accessibility. While the GoN has taken the commendable step of providing sanitary napkins free of cost at government schools, recent situations have proved that it is not enough. Pad2Go has started an online campaign, RaatoKarMaafGar, calling for the removal of the VAT from all menstrual products. Along with informational posts talking about the negative impact of the tax on MIs, we also conducted live sessions on Instagram with many people working in different sectors of menstrual health for various perspectives. The petition has over three thousand signatures, and we hope it continues to grow. We and many others are still advocating for this cause, and aim for policy-level changes for the better.
As a social enterprise in the MHM sector, we also actively strive to destigmatize the conversation around menstruation. We have a social media series on Instagram: Menstrual Monday and Taboo Thursday. Menstrual Monday takes a light-hearted approach to periods by sharing period hacks, anatomy and fun facts. Taboo Thursday covers topics that some would consider controversial such as menstrual leaves, untouchability during periods, period poverty, among others. Pad2Go has also recently started a podcast called “Padcast” with its current team members, where they talk about menstruation-related topics in an informal way.
In 2020, our co-founders were selected for the competitive Yunus and Youth Fellowship Program. While enhancing knowledge about the topics concerning business sales, strategies and financial management, it also gave the fellows an opportunity to learn about effective ways to strengthen human rights impact through one’s social business. Pad2Go won first place in the Final Pitch Competition, rewarding us USD 1,000.
We have lots of exciting projects planned out, and look forward to sharing them with you!
Stay safe and be responsible!