Eco Femme Puducherry Making washable cloth-based sanitary pads
Ever wondered what impact menstrual hygiene has on the environment, with all those disposable sanitary pads used and thrown away every month? Can women adapt to healthy, affordable menstrual practices that are also eco-positive?
Eleven women in Auroville, Puducherry, are trying to prove just that. They make up Eco Femme, a women’s empowerment and self-help group, that stitches and sells washable cloth-based sanitary pads. The group’s output is 1,600 pads a month — mostly sent to the U.K., the U.S. and the Netherlands. Now Eco Femme is trying to expand within India.
Founder Kathy Walkling is a long-time Auroville resident who began by designing, using and selling washable pads at Auroville. Eco Femme was born in 2009, when she involved women self-help group members of the Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG), an NGO, which runs various social enterprises in the villages around Auroville.
There are many taboos and gender-based stereotypes associated with menstruation — being considered ‘impure’, becoming a social outcast on those days, and so on. Eco Femme tries to address these issues through educational workshops, mostly with rural women. Plus, the project aims to get both rural and urban women to go back to cloth. Right now, there are three models of 100 per cent cotton pads designed for rural women. “Currently, the rural pads are being product tested with over 1,000 rural women and girls across Tamil Nadu,” explains Walkling. For middle- and upper-class Indian women, Eco Femme has an ‘export’ or international range of all-in-one pads with wings and leakproof layer, adapted from brands available in the West.
“A U.K. survey showed that a woman throws away approx 125-150 kgs of sanitary waste during her menstruating life, which is assumed to be 35 years,” Walkling says. In the Indian context, there are no surveys. “But a survey in the Indian Textile Journal on the market potential of disposable sanitary napkins says there are over 300 million women of menstruating age in India. The article says that if all of them used sanitary napkins, it would result in sales of (and consequently waste from) 58,500 million pieces a year.” Eco Femme pads, adds Walkling, help women save money (a washable pad can last years) and the environment. A single cloth pad represents the equivalent of 120 disposable tampons/pads over a five-year period.
More details at www.villageaction.in or www.ecofemme.org