Just A Piece Of Cloth Can Save Lives: Breaking Menstrual Stigmas With Goonj

Shame, silent painful endurance, severe infections or even death – these are few of the many sentiments associated with one of the most ignored human rights issues around the globe—menstruation.

I got attached to this cause last year before a trip to India. I have always wanted to work for an NGO but due to financial constraints, I did not explore that and took up a Technology job instead. Before my trip I realized that something is better than nothing. During my research, I found out about the serious issue that menstrual hygiene is in this day and age. As an empowered woman, I knew I had to step up and help those who did not have a voice. I raised funds and proactively took some kits to India from Days for Girls in USA.

It was disheartening to find out that in India, only 12% women have access to sanitary products. A 2010 study by A. C. Neilsen, endorsed by Plan India, found that most women use old cloth, while the less fortunate, use leaves, sand or dung cakes to soak menstrual blood.

As per the National Guidelines on Menstrual Hygiene Management (2015), nearly 113 million adolescent girls are at risk of dropping out of school due to inadequate sanitation facilities and the lack of sanitary products at school. The situation is alarming. And if this is not a wake-up call, then what is?

Goonj is steering the shift in this mindset with their ‘Not just a piece of cloth’ initiative. Founded in 1999, Goonj is an NGO headquartered in Delhi, India with a strong network of about 150 employees and 300 volunteers with an outreach across 22 states in India. The organisation repurposes 3,000 tons of cotton and semi-cotton cloth that they get annually from across the country to manufacture MyPAD, cheap, sustainable and biodegradable pads. So far Goonj has produced over 4 million sanitary pads produced out of waste cloth which has reached rural population and empowered thousands of women there.

Their production unit in Sarita Vihar, New Delhi, is seamlessly run by a strong team of about 50 women working in the ‘Not Just A Piece Of Cloth’ (NJPC) department. First time visitors and volunteers are given a 45 minute tour of the facility to acclimate them with the entire operation so that the volunteer engagement becomes more meaningful.

During the tour, the ladies employed here showcase the entire production cycle with pride. They cover how Goonj receives quality clothes and worn out fabric in donation and how the team recycles those by cleaning and processing them for MyPAD production. Wearable clothes in good condition are kept on the side to be used in one of the family kits and any material that is not in good condition to be worn, is processed for pad production. Goonj reuses everything you contribute. They do not waste anything. Even clothes in bad shape are converted into scraps for filling the pads.

Once the clothes are washed and sanitized for up to 48 hours, each garment goes through a metal detector quality check to ensure that there are no dangerous hooks or buttons left on them. Many years ago, there was a case of a woman who died of tetanus from a rusted hook in the blouse she used as a pad. This serves as the biggest case study for Goonj and strict measures are taken to ensure proper sanity and impregnability of these pads.

Inside the production unit, cloth is then converted into pads and packaged into a kit containing an instruction manual and bags to secure these reusable napkins. They are cheap, eco-friendly, reusable, and sustainable. Goonj’s mission is to address three critical A’s of menstruation; Access, Affordability and Awareness.

In addition to providing comfort to women during periods, these pads also offer a solution to the sanitary pad disposal issue that the planet is grappling with at the moment. MyPADs also come with instructions and, from time to time, counselling sessions for locals to enlighten the women on the importance of menstrual hygiene in their overall health.

Goonj works with grassroots partners to distribute these sanitary napkins. Another program called ‘Cloth for Work’ incentivises beneficiaries by giving them napkins as a reward for providing labor for their community’s development work. After the tour I got a chance to talk to the women in the Production unit. These women pose as great examples of how creating awareness on social issues like menstruation makes a huge difference in changing ancient, ingrained mindsets. Most of these women are from interior villages and have experienced these challenges first hand. Today, they not only work here with pride and distribute menstrual kits within their communities, but they also speak openly about periods to their family and relatives and also educate masses in their own neighborhoods.

The key message I took away was a feeling of camaraderie between women and a strong community of more aware women. I realized that things that we take for granted in our lives, could be a matter of life or death for someone less fortunate.

While it is easy to talk about social issues from the comforts of our homes, what is our contribution to making a change? Are you ready to be a change agent for millions of women who do not have access to basic day to day facilities?

Here are a few things you can do to help today:

  1. Donate cloth or organize cloth collection camps.
  2. Monetary aid.
  3. Volunteer your time, effort or skills.
  4. Spread the word and organise meetups to discuss this issue with the larger community.
  5. Participate in not just NJPC but many other causes Goonj takes up such as education, disaster relief, and employment campaigns in rural villages.

Come, let us kill the stigma against all menstruating people. Together.

Featured image for representation only.
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