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Sanitation First Code Red
Ayesha ShandCourtesy of Sanitation First

Star in your own Barbara Kruger artwork to support menstrual education


TextAlex Peters

Sharmadean Reid, Honey Ross, and Lou Teasdale are among the supporters of Sanitation First’s new Code Red campaign working to raise awareness and donations this Menstrual Hygiene Day

In 1989, Barbara Kruger debuted her now iconic “Your Body is a Battleground” artwork. Created for the Women’s March on Washington in support of reproductive freedom and choice, the piece is a powerful protest for women’s bodily autonomy. 30 years later, the image is being repurposed to help combat debilitating shame and taboo around periods in India.

One in five Indian girls and those who menstruate drop out of school when they start their periods. Cultural restrictions, lack of education around menstruation, and unsanitary conditions all play a part, as well as teachers who reinforce and spread misinformation such as not touching fresh food, bathing, or playing with boys while menstruating. This social stigma can have fatal effects. In 2017, a 13-year-old girl in Tamil Nadu committed suicide after her teacher publically shamed her over staining her clothes with blood.

Charity organisation Sanitation First has been working for over 20 years to combat the taboos, building ecosan toilets in schools across India, providing antimicrobial Safe Pads, and educating teachers and pupils in menstrual hygiene. Now, in the wake of India’s drastic surge in COVID-19 cases, their work is more important than ever. “With the onset of COVID and all it brought with it—the fall in income and the closing down of schools, many lost access to menstrual pads,” explains CEO Tirukurungudi Santhanam Padmapriya.

In an effort to help, the charity is launching a new campaign, CODE RED, today (May 28) to coincide with Menstrual Hygiene Day. Aiming to raise awareness and funds for its menstrual education programme Period First, Sanitation First has reworked “Your Body is a Battleground” as an Instagram filter and is encouraging people to post and share in solidarity. 

“We have always greatly admired Kruger’s work, especially her articulation around the issue facing women,” says Sanitation First ambassador Miranda Di Carcaci. “Initially the work was created for the Women’s March on Washington in support of reproductive freedom – another example of how the womb can be weaponised against its possessor. Every time a girl in India goes to school with their period, they are part of the same battle for female empowerment. A battle against taboos, a battle for health, for dignity, for a future without poverty. We found these parallels, separated as they are by decades and hemispheres, very poignant.”  

For the campaign, the charity is asking supporters to post a story with the filter, donate £5 and tag five friends. Celebrities and creatives including Anoushka Shankar, Radhika Apte, Scarlett Curtis, Margherita Missoni, Sharmadean Reid, Lola Kirke, Honey Ross, and Lou Teasdale have already pledged their support. Brands are also getting involved including a special creation by Anissa Kermiche of which 100 per cent of profits will go to CODE RED; the auction of special edition period piece by ceramicist Alma Berrow; and a natural dying session with Cara Marie Piazza X Desmond and Dempsey. 

CODE RED is aiming to raise £100K in order to reach between 2-3000 more children with the menstrual work Sanitation First carries out, as well as continue to create sustainable hand washing stations and give out Safe Pads to those of all ages, who have found themselves without alternatives during the pandemic. 

 Donate to Sanitation First here.

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