They were dumbfounded to see the sheer volume of menstrual waste of synthetic sanitary pads in canals in Muhamma grama panchayat during a cleanliness drive some time ago.
On Friday, T.N Seema, vice chairperson, Haritha Keralam Mission, declared Muhamma the first synthetic pad-free village in the State. The sleepy village on the banks of the Vembanad Lake made this achievement by distributing pads made of clothes and menstrual cups and encouraging women to switch to reusable pads.
“Muhamma is the first in Kerala to achieve this feat and probably the first in India too. The women of Muhamma have switched to reusable pads as a result of series of interventions and awareness initiatives in the past one year. This is not a small achievement with regard to the environmental and health perspective,” says J. Jayalal, president, Muhamma grama panchayat.
The story in between the cleanliness drive and becoming the synthetic sanitary pad-free village shows a collective effort to deal with a menacing problem and, above all, the willingness to change for the good.
“It was not an issue of canal pollution alone. Sanitary napkins currently in use are made up of around 90% plastic and could take hundreds of years to degrade. When burned, it releases toxic fumes that are harmful to human beings and the environment. In our panchayat, on an average, we were generating menstrual waste to the tune of one lakh synthetic sanitary pads on a monthly basis, threatening the quality of soil and water. It is this understanding that led us to think about eco-friendly alternatives,” says an official.
ATREE and Antrix
The first step to switch to reusable pads was taken in March 2019 with the support of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation. A select group of menstruating women were provided cloth pads and menstrual cups. After receiving good feedback, a project was prepared towards the end of 2019 for distributing cloth pads and menstrual cups to women in the panchayat at subsidised rates. The Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), financially supported the project through its CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities.
“Apart from distributing reusable pads, the success of the project is down to intense awareness campaigns conducted among girls and women, including at schools, colleges, workplaces, and so on. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the awareness campaigns were conducted online,” says Jojo T.D., project coordinator, ATREE.
Besides, the panchayat took initiative to replace synthetic pads with reusable pads in shops selling them in Muhamma.
According to the panchayat officials, there are 13,308 women in the local body, including 6,188 in menstruating age. It so far distributed more than 5,500 cloth pads and 500 menstrual cups.