What A Waste-Picker Feels Every Time She Picks Up Blood-Soaked Sanitary Napkins

By Richa Chaturvedi:

It is early morning, and there is no one to notice the disgust on Manwara Begum’s face while she picks up poorly- wrapped, used sanitary napkins.

A waste-picker in New Delhi’s Netaji Nagar, Manwara hates it every time she finds one of these. “I feel like throwing up every time I see a poorly-wrapped sanitary napkin,” she explains.

Unfortunately, Manwara cannot escape this stuff – it is part of the job which she values so deeply. She picks up waste from the doorsteps of nearly 300 houses. They pay her in cash – but not in dignity! She gets upset while narrating her ordeal of handling unhygienic sanitary napkins.

Manwara Begum left her home in Kolkata, West Bengal, at the tender age of seven and settled down with her family in Delhi. Her father made his daily earnings by pulling rickshaws. Her mother, along with her six siblings, took up waste-collection to make ends meet.

Manwara was married off to another waste-picker, when she was 14 years old. She continued to work and has remained in this line of work, ever since.

Manwara has been in this business for quite some time now. However, there are a few things which she just can’t get used to even now.

Women segregating waste (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)

Picking up a used sanitary napkin is one of these things. Even if people in houses try to prevent this, they are unable to do so because the packaging provided by manufacturers for consumer-use are often insufficient for this purpose. “Why can’t people put all these in paper bags and then dispose them?” asks her waste-picker husband, Nazir, angrily. “At least, then, none of us will have to encounter such things every day,” he adds. After all, the stench of decaying sanitary towels is nothing new for them, even in the 40-degree Delhi heat.

At this point, we ask them, “What should the companies do to help wastepickers to overcome the problem?”

“They should provide consumers with separate and unique bags to dispose sanitary towels,” Nazir responds assertively. “This will help waste-pickers to distinguish the waste and what we need. It will save us from the danger of handling unhygienic sanitary towels,” he adds. 

The humiliation that Manwara faces everyday isn’t unique. Waste-pickers and waste-collectors across urban India experience it daily. The packaging provided with each towel is not sufficient for wrapping them up completely, when they need to be disposed. Even when women wrap them up in newspapers, it is not distinguishable from other waste items and invariably ends up being opened. Manufacturers must therefore provide distinct and sufficiently large envelopes for the disposal of used sanitary towels.

If the plight of Manwara (and others like her) bothers you, do write to Procter and Gamble India Limited, Johnson and Johnson Limited and Hindustan Unilever Limited, asking them to provide distinct, adequately sized bags with each packet for the disposal of sanitary napkins and towels, and also create impactful awareness about using them.