Laila ladies ensure 'safety'

The ladies of Laila village guarantee ‘safety’ for women, to have a hygienic period, writes Sandhya C D’Souza

A small group of ladies in Laila village of Dakshina Kannada district are striving to ensure that every rural woman maintains menstrual hygiene. Thanks to them, women can now have worry-free monthlies at an affordable price.

Isiri-Self Help Group which comes under the DK Zilla Panchayat Total Sanitation District Support Unit is probably the first of its kind unit in the state to manufacture hygienic and low-cost sanitary napkins for women.

The production unit that started functioning in August 2011, prepares biodegradable sanitary napkins from wood pulp.

Headed by Laila Gram Panchayat Member Yashodha, this unit has five women who prepare more than 500 sanitary napkins a day and sell them under brand name ‘Safety-Feel Free’.

Speaking to City Herald, Yashodha reveals that the women in the GP used to mostly roll beedies to make a living which was hazardous for their health.

 “In March 2011, we received a proposal from Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat to open a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit in Laila. We thought that this novel initiative will enhance the menstrual health as well as create alternative job opportunities. Around 10 of us attended a workshop at Cauvery Matha Trust in Mysore where we received training to prepare these napkins,” says Yashodha.

Once back in Laila, there was no turning back. The production unit was set up under the name ‘Isiri’. 

The Gram Panchayat officials offered us a place in the GP office and set up the venture at a cost of Rs 7 lakhs.

 We got help to buy machinery from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), says Yashodha.

The pads are  chemical-free and each cost Rs 3. “At present we sell ‘Safety’ in packs of five. Each pack costs Rs 15 which is half the price that is offered in the market,” she adds.

Enhancing health

“Most of the women in our village used cloth and husk during their periods. This causes severe infections and affects the reproductive tract,” says Yashodha who adds that the unit aims to spread awareness on maintaining menstrual hygiene.

Laila unit has become a model in the state and many women from other Gram Panchayats visit the unit to learn more about our venture. We give these women demonstrations on how the napkins are made as well as tell them the importance on using these. Many women have replaced cloths with ‘Safety’, says Yashodha.

Huge demand

The napkins became an instant hit and the unit is getting orders more than they can handle. 

Dakshina Kannada District Total Sanitation Officer Manjula reveals that the safety sanitary napkins will be distributed to girl students of class VII and VIII in all government schools in the district under the State government’s Kishori scheme. 

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) district unit has already earmarked Rs 1,23,000 to purchase sanitary napkins from Laila gram panchayat. 

“The unit has been given an order to prepare more than 10,000 packs of ‘Saftey,’ so that they can be distributed to students once the academic year starts. The government hospitals in the district too have decided to include ‘safety’ napkins in the Madilu kit, which is being distributed to women after delivery at government hospitals.

The Zilla Panchayat plans to have another such unit to meet the increasing demand. There are plans to incorporate pads with wings in the new unit,” adds Manjula. 

Model Gram Panchayat

Laila Gram Panchayat in Belthangady taluk has won Rashtriya Gaurav Gramsabha award -2012. Laila Panchayat Development Officer Prakash Shetty says that Laila is striving to become a model village.

A solid waste management plant was recenlty opened, through which waste is turned into manure and marketed under brand name ‘Laila Gold’. The sanitary napkin unit is only present in our village in the State.

Apart from that, the credit for the award can be given to the village people. All attend Gram Sabhas without fail and express their problems and see that they are solved, he adds.

The Iron Lady

“I lived 39 years of my life in a dormant state, rolling beedis for income and bearing tantrums of my alcoholic husband. A literacy camp changed my life forever….”

Yashodha, is an inspiration to several women who wish to be literate. “I was like any other village woman. However, a literacy camp organised by Jana Shikshana Trust thought me to read and write,” she says.

“I used to feel suppressed and shivered when I went up on a stage. Once I became literate, I felt a kind of confidence and courage entering me,” she adds.

Yashodha admitted her alcoholic husband in a rehab in Mangalore. “He left alcohol forever. Together, we started motivating other women to make their alcoholic husbands join the rehab,” says Yashodha and adds that she has made at least 200 people join rehab and seen success.

“I used to receive threat calls. Many did not like me entering the male strata of society and telling them what to do. However, nothing deterred my courage,” she adds.Yashodha is also known for her strict approach against people who employ children for work. “I just get the child from the place and ensure that he/she goes back to school,” she says.

Yashodha is also an active member of Heera Foundation that works with sex workers, educating them about AIDS. “I work in five villages in Belthangady, educating people about AIDS. I motivate them to do the HIV test and if they are found positive, I guide them to ART centers for treatment,” says Yashodha and adds that she ensures that the HIV positive people in the villages get benefits from various government allotted schemes.

Yashodha is an example of a successful candidate that emerged from a neo-literate campaign. She performs in dramas, gives motivational speeches. She is the joint secretary of the Mahila Ookutta in her village and as a Gram Panchayat member, she is in fore front in all the GP activities.

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