Why I Believe Indian Women Should Switch To Eco-Friendly Menstrual Hygiene Products

As per the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 (NFHS-4) only 57.6% of women in India use sanitary napkins. 48.5% of women in rural India use sanitary napkins while 77.5% of women in urban India use sanitary napkins.

The reason why women in rural India don’t use sanitary pads is because they cost more, they aren’t available easily, they are ashamed to buy them from the shopkeeper (generally a male), they are ignorant (in the sense, if rag, ashes and cloth are doing well then why buy a sanitary napkin?).

The statistics for rural India are a matter of concern. This is the reason behind the efforts of NGOs to distribute sanitary napkins for free or at low costs. Does that end the problem?

The statistics with regard to the use of sanitary pads by females in urban India shall worry us equally. Most of the women in urban India use commercial sanitary napkins and tampons which are nothing but an amalgam of plastic and chemicals.
The problem with women in urban India and rural India is not very distinct. I believe that both sets of females are unaware and ignorant towards the fact that the materials used by them during their menstruation are detrimental for their health.

Using a rag, ashes and cloth are unhygienic and they have a detrimental effect on the health of the women. Even after washing the cloth, bad bacteria don’t leave it. This can cause allergy, irritation, cervical cancer and even death. The average sanitary pad is made from 90 percent plastic, that’s equivalent to four single-use carrier bags. Tampons are just as bad as their applicators are commonly coated in plastic, they’re non-recyclable. So, if you’re taking your 16-pack of pads home in a reusable bag, you’ll actually be purchasing 64 single-use bags.

Sanitary napkins, unlike shown in the advertisements, have to be changed every 1-2 hours for vaginal health. It doesn’t allow air to pass. The highly-publicised ‘odour lock’ technology leaves female health in jeopardy. The gel that locks odour is nothing but a synthetic fragrance and consists of many more chemicals, such as pesticides, rayon, herbicides, dioxin, deodorant and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

These may not only cause allergies, itchiness, rashes but also cancer, infertility, pelvic inflammation, toxic shock syndrome, impaired thyroidal function, endometriosis and many other reproductive diseases and disorders.

Using sanitary napkins may or may not help us curb the health problems faced by females in lieu of using other unhygienic and harmful objects/substances but this surely marks the beginning of another problem – environmental issues, an element of climate change.

 

These commercial pads and tampons are non-biodegradable. The way they have been dumped adds to the harm they do to the environment. Some ladies flush them down the toilet which chokes the sewer. The sanitary napkins that have gel get stuck and don’t get cleared using machines. It has to be a human who goes inside the sewer and removes it with his/her hands.

Some women throw the sanitary napkins without wrapping them in newspapers. This causes the bacteria to multiply causing an adverse effect on the person clearing the dustbin or the one segregating waste. Some women put it in a plastic bag. This makes plus 1 to the four plastic bags. Some women are so ashamed that they don’t even dump the pad in the dustbin but just throw it out their windows letting it settle on the roads or parks. It takes a sanitary pad 500-800 years to decompose completely. It stays in the landfills causing pollution, causing climate change. Killing us indirectly.

The solution can be to use biodegradable menstrual hygiene products such as eco-friendly sanitary pads. However, the problem attached to these products is that they aren’t very readily available in the market. Even if one finds them online, they are expensive as compared to the commercial pads and tampons. One can switch to cloth pads, menstrual panties and menstrual cups. These are much more cost-efficient.

A menstrual cup may cost you around 800 to 1000 rupees yet it can be used for nearly a decade. It is made of silicon hence isn’t detrimental for the environment. Cloth pads and menstrual panties are not the same as using a dirty cloth. It is a better and advanced version of cloth. It can be washed and reused.

Photo: Meghan/Wikimedia Commons.

The eco-friendly and biodegradable menstrual hygiene products are comparatively more expensive, but the commercial pads which are not as costly, are also not reaching all women of our country. That is the battle we have to fight. On one hand, the poor level of menstrual sanitation, on the other, the detrimental effects of improved menstrual sanitation and its adverse effects of women and the environment.

To all those who are reading this, if you are a female then please make a switch to something that is good for the environment. If you are a male then please spread the word. Help your mother, sister, friends, wife and others to make a switch. Raise your voice towards effective waste management of menstrual products.

Lets us raise our voices and take action towards better menstrual hygiene and towards a better environment.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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