The dreaded M-word. The proverbial ‘period’ to any conversation. The monthly phenomenon that comes wrapped in a black plastic bag and spoken about in hushed tones. As menstruation remains a stigmatised subject in our country, it renders a plethora of subjects taboo. Menstrual hygiene, women’s psychological well-being and the non-biodegradable waste that is generated every year are some of these subjects that demand immediate attention. This World Conservation Day (July 28), let’s talk about sustainable sanitary products and every woman’s right to bleed with dignity.
“A report by WaterAid mentioned that India has close to 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins to take care of every year, majority of which are not biodegradable/compostable. On an average, a menstruator uses around 21,000 pads in her lifetime which could be around 200 kg of avoidable waste,” informs development professional and action network fellow at Youth ki Awaaz, Nitisha Pandey. “Changing behaviours and mindsets is a slow and steady process. One of the ways to go about it is creating spaces for awareness and action with the youth in communities — both rural and urban,” she adds.
Money is a restraint with which many women are faced. In rural and urban slums, there is always a struggle to arrange the next meal, let alone think about spending money on something which is considered unnatural and bad. “Even in the urban slums of places like Mumbai, women are not aware about pads or menstrual hygiene,” says social worker Anurag Chauhan of the WASH project by NGO Humans for Humanity. Stigmas, combined with financial restraints, further add to the neglected state of menstrual health. “In order to save money, these women do not change their pads for six-seven hours, leading to problems. Forget about bamboo-based organic pads, when these women can’t even afford regular pads worth ₹30,” informs Chauhan.
As part of the project, his team conducts workshops and training sessions not just on the ground, but also online. “Instead of only distributing pads, we teach these women to make cloth pads. We begin by giving them pads so that they have an understanding of it,” he adds. The project is active in six states and has employed women from the villages, making them financially self-sufficient. These reusable cloth pads last up to 2-2.5 years and come as part of a kit that has a soap bar. “The pads can be washed with soap and disinfectant. The best thing is they can be made at home,” he says.
Reusable alternatives like menstrual cups are an environment-friendly option, but remain a relatively unexplored product. “Compared to disposable sanitary pads, reusable menstrual alternatives are certainly a cost-effective option. I have found that using a sustainable menstrual alternative could bring down the investment in sanitary products by approximately 60% annually,” shares Pandey.
Gynaecologist and Obstetrician Dr Aruna Kalra says that while these reusable alternatives offer eco-friendly solutions, certain precautions must be kept in mind while using these. “Menstrual cups made with silicon or rubber are reusable. They lock the fluid until they are removed from the vagina. They should be emptied after every 4-12 hours and washed them properly with clean water. It is important to find the right size other otherwise it may cause spillage,” she says.
Menstrual cups made with silicon or rubber are reusable.
Photo: Sunil Ghosh/HT
Bamboo and other plant-based sanitary pads do not come with cheap and not many women can afford those, whereas the commercial ones are full of chemicals which are harmful for the women. Kalra advocates the use of cotton-based cloth pads. “They are reusable and more breathable than regular sanitary pads. They are easy on the skin and do not cause allergic reactions. There are less chances of pelvic infection or urinary tract infection (UTI),” advises Kalra.
Interact with Etti Bali @TheBalinian