As she takes the stage once again, to tell her story–a girl rising from the unknown lanes of Hapur district in Western UP to being the inspiration behind an Academy award-winning documentary–Suman is no less than a phoenix.
Fondly called the “Oscar Woman”–after the documentary Period. End Of Sentence, which is inspired by Suman’s story won an Academy Award in 2019–she is spreading awareness around menstrual hygiene.
Her fight for menstrual awareness is fairly personal
“In my village, periods were considered a taboo and an omen. Women never discussed it freely,” says Suman.
But it was Suman’s own experience with her first period that propelled her to start her pad project in 2017–a unique endeavour that offers menstrual products, mainly sanitary napkins, to rural women across India
“I was in school, wearing an all-white uniform when I got my first period. My teacher immediately sent me home. I didn’t know what was happening to me so I faced a lot of mental and physical trauma,” says Suman.
“I used to use a cloth which exposed me to infection. Not to mention, I had to bear abdominal pain which means I was popping a lot of painkillers,” she adds.
With time, Suman realised that her health–like innumerable other Indian women was deteriorating–due to a lack of acceptance, understanding, and menstrual tools.
Things became worse for her after she got married in 2002–as a lack of toilets added to her ordeal. Her patriarchal and restricting marital household also curtailed her movements and freedom of expression.
She became a hope for rural women three years ago
In 2017, Suman established a small factory with a few daring women in Hapur and started manufacturing clean sanitary pads. However, this journey had its struggles as she was constantly threatened by men.
“I remember being hit on my head on a winter night while returning home from the factory,” recalls Suman.
Yet, she didn’t give up. In fact, this incident made way for a large wave of angry but determined women–who became the ambassadors of The Pad Project and travelled door to door educating women and distributing pads.
“My idea was not only to introduce these women to menstrual hygiene, but to also make them independent and self-sufficient,” she exclaims. In the end, Suman and her team of superheroes have bridged many chasms–starting conversations and ending stigma.