Kanagal, a tiny village about 30 km from Periyapatna in Mysore district, is on the threshold of a quiet revolution that has empowered its women.
An organisation called Cauvery Matha Trust, has been working at creating awareness on personal hygiene among rural women as well as helping them earn a livelihood by making affordable sanitary napkins.
“This initiative has not only changed the way I live and work, it has also given me a sense of dignity because I no longer have to stay confined to the house during my period,” says Deepa, one of the young women involved with the project.
While there are several organisations and self-help groups (SHGs) working towards women’s empowerment by imparting skills training in areas such as tailoring or pickle/ papad-making, the Trust came up with the ‘Relax’ project, aimed at rural women, who were previously using cloth and other material instead of sanitary napkins.
The project has transformed the lives of girls like Deepa. A school dropout at 16, she was married off to Channakeshava of Kanagal two years later. With no real education or skills, she stayed home, “gossiping with the neighbours” after completing her chores. Channakeshava is a daily labourer and the couple had to be content with what little he earned. When she got to know of the ‘Relax’ project, she was intrigued enough to go to the Trust office to find out whether there was an opportunity for her to earn some money and supplement her husband’s income.
Finding regular work, Deepa has since opened an recurring deposit (RD) account in a bank.
Kalpana, who married Ashok of Kanagal when still in her teens, used to work as a labourer loading sand from the Cauvery river basin into lorries. The work was back-breaking and the wages were low. Now, she is happy that she has a “proper” job and can send her daugher Swathi to a good school.
More than the pleasure of earning a steady income and being gainfully employed, Kalpana, Deepa and scores of women in Kanagal are thrilled to be providing training to a steady stream of women who visit the unit regularly to replicate their success elsewhere in Karnataka.
The women associated with the ‘Relax’ project have been marketing their product at melas and are proud to share their success story at every available forum.
Paschal Saldanha, Executive Director of Cauvery Matha Trust, credits NABARD for backing them on the project. “It was was not a runaway success from day one,” he emphasises.
“It was a result of continuous research for close to 10 years.”
Production training was imparted to 20 SHG women members of Kanagal. Trainers from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, supported Saldanha in the venture.
Of the 20 trained women, 10 were immediately absorbed into the work force on a permanent basis, while the others were offered piece-meal work.
The ten-member, all-women unit handles the defibration machine, the core forming machine, the sealing machine and the packing machine. The core materials used are fibre, which is pulverised and fed into the defibration machine to get the necessary texture to be used in the sanitary pad, and cotton. Approximately, 100 gm of fibre is utilised to make six napkins. Each napkin has a 70:30 mix of fibre and cotton, which is compressed and then sealed. This is then fed into a sterilising unit.
Around 400 napkins are produced daily and the production cost comes to around Rs 1.70 a piece. The selling price is Rs 2.00 (Rs 10 for a pack of 5 napkins).
Women from Bijapur, Davangere, Nanjangud and Mysore have visited the production unit. A unit has just been set up in Bellary and there have been enquiries to set up such units in Chamarajanagar and Dharwad.