For the green woman

Eco-friendly pads

If men got their periods,” says Lakshmi Murthy, founder of Uger (which means new beginnings in Mewadi, the language of southern Rajasthan) Pads, “They would build bathrooms for the ladies in their house, rather than spending on motorcycles and mobile phones. There would be bathrooms in government buildings, schools, bus stands and railway stations across India. The bathrooms will suddenly have doors, water, and many others conveniences. There would be a variety of inventions surrounding menstrual product. And of course they would then become sensitive to mood swings!”

However, it is not so, and menstruation continues to be a painful and distressing experience for most women. Many girls drop out of school after they start menstruating, and many are even considered impure during “those days”, and banished.

Adding to this, the limited information available to women about menstruation, lack of sanitary waste disposal measures, and the high cost of good quality sanitary napkins make things worse.

“Lack of access to sanitary pads is a critical women’s rights issue: it is a leading reason for higher school dropout rates of girls, women missing work, and infections for women. However, if every woman in India started using disposable sanitary napkins, it would cause an environmental crisis. Commercial pads are almost 90 per cent plastic and contain toxic chemicals which are released into the environment when disposed of, and clog waterways or collect in landfills without breaking down.

With only 12 per cent of Indian women currently using sanitary pads (rest use old rags, mud and bark), a staggering 1,08,000 tons of sanitary pad waste is created annually. This waste will only increase with increase in sanitary pad usage,”
says Amrita Saigal.

To address this issue, she, along with Kristin Kagetsu and Grace Kane, developed Saathi, which offers biodegradable and eco-friendly sanitary pads made from waste banana tree fibre for women across India. Since these pads are 100 per cent biodegradable and do not contain any plastic and can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each material of the pad is locally sourced and manufactured in India.

Saathi pads are launching in the rural market this month and will be launched in the urban market in 2017.

Similarly, other initiatives like Uger Pads and NGO Goonj’s ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’ (NJPC) are working towards dispelling the notion that cloth is unhygienic, and are manufacturing cloth-based sanitary napkins.

“Disposable pads are convenient and suit many women. It is also an aspiration product for young women. We have done interviews with disposable pad users and found that it does not suit some women. Complains of rash, itching, boils and in some cases abscess have also been reported. Allergies are now common, hence are these few reported pad allergies, a result of general health in the world today? While these cases seem few, the effects of long term usage of disposable pads have not still been completely determined,” says Murthy.

Refraining from commenting on which sanitary measure is better, Meenakshi Gupta from team Goonj says that for them the question is where and how can they help a woman address her basic need of menses, and reach out to women who don’t even have enough cloth for the same.

“What makes the idea of clean cloth napkins successful is its simplicity and familiarity to the beneficiaries. Instead of trying to introduce a new product or a new design, it’s an improvisation and mass scale replication of existing usage practices by simply removing the risk elements. On the other hand for the recipient women in villages, through cloth pad, an important basic need is addressed.

Comfort, convenience and long term health and hygiene levels improve, leading to a better life, a humble piece of old cloth becomes a driving force for a lot of health related issues. Cloth pad also solves bigger environmental problem of disposal in the process,” Gupta tells Metrolife.

She shares that their pads are sourced from the cloth they collect from the urban masses across India. “In the cities, 10 to 15 per cent of the total cloth we get is not in wearable condition. We segregate and convert the unwearable or semi-cotton into sanitary pads called ‘My Pads’, which then goes through a value added process,” she says, adding that one can buy a pack of 10 My Pads
for Rs 30.

Summing up, Murthy agrees that while cloth-based pads are less absorbent when compared to gel-based napkins, need frequent changing, require effort and half a bucket of water to wash, and that many young women are uncomfortable about touching blood, she says that “coming to which one is better, disposable or reusable. I will certainly put all my cards on reusable”.

Adding, Gupta says, “We feel there needs to be a bigger change in the larger eco system, in the mindset of our society. Our aim in cities as well as villages has been to position menstruation as a normal issue, as a natural biological process, where there is nothing to be ashamed of for a woman. Thus for a woman to break her silence, or to not feel ashamed around this issue and talking openly, the society will have to first start treating it as a human issue rather than a women’s issue. There also needs to be a big change in the orientation of our health system and health infrastructure, where menstrual issues, needs and health issues still aren’t mapped and prioritised comprehensively.”

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