Seeing Red: Eller student creates a nonprofit to reduce stigma around menstruation

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While some picked up new hobbies during the pandemic, one international Eller student decided to create her own advocacy organization to tackle the taboo topic of menstruation.

Avrati Raturi, a junior at the UA Eller College of Management who is studying management information systems, hails from Delhi, India. She learned how to create her own NGO during an online workshop provided by Youth Ki Awaaz, a citizen journalism app for youth in India.

Raturi chose the name LAAL, which means “red” in Hindi, in response to commercials for feminine products. She said it is absurd that most feminine product commercials use blue liquid to demonstrate menstruation when red is completely natural. Raturi says this reflects society’s view that menstruation is taboo.

Raturi is fighting this taboo through LAAL. Her NGO is a digital advocacy campaign that seeks to provide access to menstruation products and menstruation education in rural parts of India.

In 2016, a BMJ study showed only half of the Indian adolescents who menstruate said they were told about menstruation before their first period.

The taboo around menstruation is not unique to India, where (like most countries), the society is patriarchal. Generations before Raturi taught their families to not speak openly with their children about menstruation. Raturi said she witnessed an example of this at a menstruation hygiene workshop.

“We had this workshop and we were discussing periods with people who were actually keen to discuss and openly talk about it with their parents,” Raturi said. “I saw a mom just stand up and she’s like, ‘I just don’t want to be here, I cannot talk about such things and this is something not to be talked about in open.’”

Growing up, Raturi did not have that experience with her mother. Raturi’s mom is a doctor and spoke to her about feminine hygiene.

“She taught me at a very young age that you have to take care of certain things and she told me about periods at a very young age,” Raturi said. “She was always open about that conversation.”

When Raturi recognized not everyone has this type of education, especially in rural areas of India, she was inspired to launch LAAL. 

The gap in access to education in India makes it difficult for new generations of menstruators to fight against taboos. Raturi hopes that her organization can address the gap and make it easier for Indians who menstruate to narrow the education gap.

Since its inception a few years ago, LAAL has grown to include more than 50 members. Raturi uses Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to announce fundraising campaigns and workshops, as well as publish informative facts on menstruation. 

Raturi regularly collaborates with other NGOs for fundraising. LAAL recently put on a fundraiser with Amala Community, a youth organization in India. Raturi met Gautam George, founder of Amala Community, at a virtual model United Nations conference. George said they connected through social media after the conference and became instant friends.

“We are best friends who are trying to travel around the whole world so that we can find our perfect retirement homes,” George said.

Amala means “hope” in Arabic. George created Amala to provide a safe space for South Asian and other communities who experience discrimination.

“Coming from a brown community, I know what struggles we face to get acceptance in society, whether it was culture, food, clothing, and the way we speak,” George said. “All of this inspired me to create Amala, to put a full stop to these stereotypes and educate youths about things that aren’t taught in textbooks like sex education, menstruation, mental health and how to raise our voice when we feel unsafe.”

George and Raturi collaborated on the Safarnama fundraising event. “Safarnama” means “journey” in Hindi. George said many Indian children lost their parents during the second wave of coronavirus in India, leaving their lives and education at stake. Amala and LAAL hosted a series of virtual fundraising events in July that included standup comedy, open mic performances and a live concert.

Raturi said Indian influencer Avanti Nagral performed for their fundraiser and made most of their funds from her concert.

They donated their funds to Feeding India, a nonprofit organization that strives to end hunger in India. They also provide aid for education, COVID-19 relief, and medical care programs for people in India.

George was elated to work with Raturi on the fundraising event and plans to collaborate on more projects in the future.

“They (LAAL) are creating a safe place for young girls and women, encouraging them to use sanitary pads and where it is not available they are making access to it by educating and encouraging them to use them,” George said.  

Find LAAL’s accounts and fundraising links at linktr.ee/projectlaal. Learn more about Amala Community at linktr.ee/amala.community

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