The conversation on menstruation and periods is still a taboo in India. Studies indicate that menstrual taboo has led to 71% of girls in India being unaware of menstruation until their first cycle. In addition to a lack of awareness of menstruation, access to menstrual hygiene is also a problem. As of 2019, only 20% of women in India have access to menstrual hygiene. Even among the urban population, only 50% of women have access to proper menstrual hygiene.
When discussing menstruation and menstrual hygiene, one of the aspects that is least discussed, is the disposal of menstrual waste. The immediate problems that need to be addressed are menstrual taboo and access to menstrual hygiene; however, something to also keep in mind is the disposal of menstrual waste. The major reason is that across the menstruating years, the lack of proper disposal technology and unsustainable sanitary products causes a major issue. The issue is the generation of 123 kg of non-biodegradable waste by a single woman during the duration of the menstruating years. Additionally, Eco-friendly alternatives to sanitary pads such as menstrual cups are not promoted. Menstrual cups are also priced beyond the reach of the rural and semi-urban population.
As a society, we should be doing better to not only provide menstruating individuals with access, awareness, and hygienic security but also prevent them from being burdened by the environmental impact. There is no need to look at western solutions when there are solutions being developed in India.
These Indian organizations, enterprises, and individuals need to promoted, understood, and celebrated.
The MY Pad developed by Goonj, along with their Not Just a Piece of Cloth (NJPC) initiative is helping improve access and reduce taboo around menstrual hygiene. The hand-made MY Pads are very affordable, easy-to-make, and are an eco-friendly alternative to ready-made sanitary pads. Goonj also focuses on increasing awareness and enabling behavior change in cultures that shame and silence conversations around menstrual hygiene.
Non-profit social enterprise
Soumya Dabriwal and Aradhana Rai Gupta developed Project Baala to overcome problems of accessibility, awareness, and Eco-friendliness by developing sanitary pads that can be reused for 2 years. The team travels across rural India, where menstrual taboo is a critical problem, with young women having to drop out of schools because of a lack of menstrual hygiene and access to sanitary products. An estimated 23 million women drop out of schools every year due to a lack of infrastructure, education, and sanitary products. The collective issue arises as a result of shame and taboo surrounding menstruation in India. Project Baala has impacted the lives of young women in 16 states across India. The solution that Project Baala has developed is a cloth-based sanitary pad that can be reused.
The Project Baala pad sets itself apart because of its:
1. Three layers that allow for a leak-proof and spill-proof experience for the user
2. Anti-bacterial treatment on the top layer that ensures hygiene and safety for two years, and therefore eliminating recurring pad purchase costs
3. Environmental friendly solution to menstrual absorption problems.
For-profit social enterprise
EcoFemme is a women-led, impact-driven social enterprise that produces and sells washable cloth pads and provides menstrual health education. Since its inception in 2010, the organization has exemplified how business and social responsibility can go hand in hand. EcoFemme has channeled income from cloth pad sales towards not-for-profit activities like pad distribution and education.
To date, EcoFemme has distributed more than 7,00,000 washable cloth pads (both commercially and non-commercially) with each washable pad lasting for up to 5 years. This has prevented approximately 54.8 million disposable sanitary napkins from ending up as waste. EcoFemme also focuses on empowering women locally and globally through their ambassador program, workshops, and grassroots partnerships. This social enterprise is a perfect example of a holistic organization that blends commercial development with social empowerment to create meaningful cultural change.
Pads Against Poverty
Period poverty is often overlooked despite being a key perpetrator of the poverty cycle. When lacking access to menstrual products, a girl can miss school and her chance to break her family out of poverty. Missing one-quarter of school permanently harms a girl’s ability to fulfill her potential. The right to menstruate safely is a fundamental human right as it is key to accessing education and maintaining health.
Pads Against Poverty is dedicated to empowering women by providing environmentally sustainable sanitary products from Baala and menstrual health education alongside the non-governmental organization Manzil Mystics. For every Rs. 220 that is donated, one woman receives a kit containing safe sanitary products. Each kit contains three reusable sanitary pads as well as educational materials on menstruation. The initiative has an interesting challenge to promote awareness, which is the 2-8-5 challenge. The challenge involves 2 women, who are chosen at random, donating $8 SGD (Roughly Rs.440), and then tagging 5 other people to do the same. To learn more about the initiative follow Pads Against Poverty on their Instagram page.
Apeksha’s UAAS Journey
Understanding: I read a lot about how incinerating used period pads causes a lot of damage to the environment and tried to compare it to other products that people use while on their period.
Awareness: I talked to a lot of people about this and told them the importance of weaning off their pad usage and using a more environmentally friendly product. I gave them examples of people who have done it and had smooth transitions.
Action: I started using menstrual cups and talked to people about it.
Social Change: One of my friends started using a menstrual cup as well and others are keen on starting.
Goonj, Project Baala, EcoFemme, Pads Against Poverty, and Apeksha are addressing the core aspects of the problem such as menstrual taboo and menstrual hygiene as well as the impact of menstrual waste on the environment.
As a whole, India needs to move away from its archaic traditions that confine young women from living normal lives. Tough conversations need to happen to promote awareness and home-grown solutions need to be developed and celebrated. Thurit salutes the organizations, enterprises, initiatives, and individuals for their change-making efforts to improve India’s outlook on menstrual hygiene.
You can map your journey, too
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