Menstruation has been a culturally closed-door topic in India and eventually the most overlooked one. Any dialogue around menstruation is met with a hush-hush, hesitation and the menstruating girl or a woman is made to feel dirty and shameful. Menstruation is a healthy physical process the body undergoes for the maintenance and upkeep of the female reproductive system. But in our society, it is associated with the old wives’ tales of not touching drinking water, pickle jars or even entering the kitchen. Even today, in many homes, menstruating women are made to sit separately so that they do not come in contact with the other members of the house. Basically, menstruation is considered nothing more than reproductive readiness.
That was the cultural drawback. If that startled you, then this would shock you. Sanitary pads were introduced in the Indian market to give women a chance to have a worry-free period, by shifting them from using cloth pads to disposable sanitary napkins. But no one thought about what happened to them after use? The sanitary napkins made way to landfills, clogging our environment due to their slow degenerative property and the numbers will blow your mind! Problems are just getting worse day by day! But there are a group of women who have taken it upon themselves to create a change and liberate women, of the shame and awkwardness.
EcoFemme is a for-profit organization based in the innovation hub of Auroville, Tamil Nadu. It was started by a Kathy Walkling and Jessamijn when they shifted to India. EcoFemme makes washable cloth pads in various packages and types and has initiated the Pad for Pad program. In my chat with EcoFemme, Kathy Walkling talks about their multi-fold impact model – menstrual hygiene, menstrual education and sustainable livelihood, their experience while broaching this subject among Indian women and the impact of disposable products on the environment.
Some Tidbits from the Hangout:
Menstruation is a sensitive topic and a cultural taboo in India
Education to adolescent girls around their first menstrual experience is limited and so they go into this experience with a lot of anxiety, embarrassment, shame
Many sections of the society still resort to unhygienic practices of handling sanitary wastes like sand, ash, newspapers due to lack of proper education on menstrual hygiene
We are trying to reframe menstruation in a more positive way
Breaking the silence wasn’t a big deal at all. It was welcomed
Girls have plenty of questions about menstrual cycles that need to be answered
Women think that menstrual hygiene means using a disposable product, which is not true
We have a lot of biases against reusable products and the efforts involved in it
Menstruation is considered dirty and impure
We need to think about what happens to ANY product after we finish using it
A single sanitary napkin is equivalent to 4 plastic bags and every woman uses 10 of these every month and multiplied by 12 months of the year and 355 million women of reproductive age. The numbers blow your mind!
A single sanitary napkin takes 500-800 years to break down
It is very short-sighted to assume that we can manage menstruation with these plastic products
Disposables feed into the anxiety, aversion disgust and distaste towards menstruation
Here’s the full Hangout: