A local NGO has taken the onus upon themselves to address and help solve the difficulties in Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in a sustainable manner. They are also engaging adolescent girls and women on menstrual health.
Gramalaya, a city-based non-governmental organisation involved in water management and public sanitation, realised the magnitude of the problem only in 2015, said S. Damodaran, CEO and Founder. “We involved doctors, researchers and others in our discussions with women who said that sanitary pads were causing issues ranging from rashes and urinary tract infections to fibroids, birth defects and infertility,” Mr. Damodaran said.
Sanitary napkins are usually encased in a polyester cover, filled with chemicals and bleached with dioxin to look pristine white. Mr. Damodaran said that according to the doctors, the biggest problem was that women do not know how often to change these pads.
Gramalaya then designed and began manufacturing cloth pads which are reusable and can last up to three years. They distributed them for free along with learning material on MHM in English and Tamil through Gramalaya’s awareness programmes in slums in and around the city.
The cloth pads were initially tested out on Gramalaya's workers who all agreed that they were more comfortable than the commercial plastic ones. “Most women wear a pad over an already soiled one. Even though the government is handing out free sanitary pads there is no place to dispose them. Due to this girls began to absent themselves and some even began dropping out of school even though pads were being provided," said J. Geetha, Executive Director of Gramalaya.
The cloth pads, named ‘Feel Free’ pads, are priced at ₹300 and marketed in three varieties based on the intensity of one's period by a separate team. “The pads come in gentle, normal and elite varieties and vary in thickness. They are stitched by women that Gramalaya mobilised into Self-Help Groups who make a reasonable profit from it. “In the last year, we have sold at least one lakh cloth pads. We have even able to declare that 100 per cent of menstruating women in 13 villages are using our cloth pads.” Ms. Geetha said.
Through ‘Feel Free’, Gramalaya aims to reduce the 9,000 tonnes of sanitary napkins thrown out in the country every year. They also manufacture cloth diapers for children and period panties, which are underwear fitted with absorption material.