Monitoring and quality control absent in manufacture of low cost sanitary napkins

Hygienic practices during menses are not just a cause for concern in rural areas, but also in the city, say activists.

Says the Director of EKTA Resource Centre for Women, Bimla Chandrasekar, “Awareness has to be created among women, especially college students. It is unfortunate that many women are not aware of how to use sanitary napkins. The mental outlook of feeling dirty about it needs to change.”

She advocates the need for women, health and eco-friendly sanitary napkins. “The multi-national brands of sanitary napkins appear sleek but have chemical absorbents, which are not good for the health of women.” Under such circumstances, the low cost sanitary napkins produced by various Self Help Groups are a viable option, she adds.

Several low cost sanitary napkin manufacturing units have cropped up in Madurai district after National Agricultural Bank for Rural Development (NABARD) with the help of Association for Rural Development (ARD), a non-governmental organization, provided low cost sanitary napkins manufacturing training last year at Kaandai, a village near Usilampatti, as part of its income generating activity. ‘Sugavasam’, ‘Nice’, ‘Idham’, ‘Nila’ and ‘Fresh’ were a few products launched in the market following the training.

“More units under the brand ‘Sugavasam’ are likely to be launched in places such as Chekkanoorani, Chellampatti and a few places near Tirumangalam,” Daisy Rani, a member of ARD, points out.

“Most women in the rural areas cannot afford to buy the expensive sanitary napkins. We are planning to popularise the low cost napkins in villages and in schools, women’s hostels and colleges. We want to create awareness of sanitation and hygiene and promote our brand,” says S. Selvarani, who runs a low cost sanitary napkin manufacturing unit in Kaandai. The low cost sanitary napkins are sold at half the price of the multinational brands.

“We conduct regular meetings for women in the villages where we speak to them on why sanitary napkins must be used. Most of them use cloth during menses and face the risk of infections. So far, the response from women in rural areas has been positive, but awareness still needs to be created,” Selvarani adds.

Better option

Ms. Bimla says several young girls complain of irritation and outbreak of rash after using the sanitary napkins produced by multinational brands. “The low cost napkins do not use chemicals and can be a better option for women in general”, she says.

The director of a 40-minute documentary ‘Madhavidaai’ (Menses), Geetha Ilangovan, reiterates that the use of low cost sanitary napkins for menstrual protection is a better option for rural women, who mostly use and re-use old and dirty pieces of cloth. “However, she adds, “the quality and standard of the low cost sanitary products should also be tested before being promoted.”

Mrs. Geetha did two years of field study in several villages on issues faced by women during menses, and their sanitary habits.

“A proper disposal mechanism for sanitary napkins should be adopted in rural areas. Incinerators can be installed in the villages for disposal. Or sanitary napkin burners could be introduced to the women,” she suggests.

“During my field study for ‘Madhavidaai’ I came across several instances where women and school students admitted they did not know how to use sanitary napkins. So awareness should be created on how to use and dispose the napkins,” she says.

Ms. Bimla rued that there is no proper disposal mechanism for sanitary napkins. “Many public toilets do not even have napkin disposal bins”, she stated.

“Sanitary napkins form a bulk of the daily garbage generated. The SHGs can consider manufacturing reusable sanitary napkins as is being done in Tiruchi,” notes Salai Selvam, a women’s rights activist.

According to her, reusable napkins will not just reduce the amount of garbage, but also be an economically viable option for women.