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Bleeding ‘Green’: Why I Ditched Typical Sanitary Pads

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

An irregular period cycle, constant Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) and irritability, etc. due to use of Disposable Sanitary Napkins (DSNs) are some of the common reasons why many menstruators have switched to sustainable menstrual hygiene products like menstrual cups, reusable cloth pads, inter-labia pads and period underwears.

However, I have always had a decent, mildly painful, only five-day long menstrual cycle and had no physical reason to make a switch to sustainable products. The chemicals present in the DSNs are undoubtedly harmful, but honestly, it never gave me rashes, irritation or any discomfort.

The only thing that motivated me to switch was the willingness to reduce the sanitary waste I could generate in my future cycles if I continued to use DSNs.

Do We Wish To Reduce Sanitary Waste Or Generate Biodegradable Waste? 

Waste generation is indispensable and cannot be stopped altogether, but we can always aim towards waste reduction. Sustainable period products help in reducing the average sanitary waste a menstruator can generate in their lifetime. Studies have shown that one DSN is equal to four polythene bags.

A menstruator easily disposes of a pack or more of such DSNs which is an enormous amount of sanitary waste. Moreover, it is reported that this waste does not decompose or break down for 500–800 years unless burnt. Hence, all the pads we disposed of are still on the Earth and will remain so for the coming years. But as individuals, we can always aim to reduce the waste arising out of future cycles by way of switching to sustainable products.

Are Biodegradable Pads A Sustainable Option?

A lot of companies and start-ups have come up with biodegradable sanitary pads that claim to be better than the disposable ones, which consist of non-biodegradable contents. But the question is whether these are compostable or not. If not, then the purpose of reducing waste is far-fetched.

If the waste we generate by using biodegradable pads is not able to degrade in soil within 4–6 months, its claims are false, and it is not a sustainable product. The youth that admires the sustainable living as shown on social media platforms also needs to learn about the levels of sustainability that particular product supports and whether what they chose to use is actually eco-friendly.

Is Reusing Unhygienic?

It has been a common concern and belief that reusing a sanitary product in unhygienic. Many menstruators cringe at the idea of washing a used cloth pad and then reusing the same for the next cycle or next day in the same cycle. They are also averse to the idea of washing a menstrual cup and then reinserting it inside their vaginas.

Opposite to this popular view, reusing is safe and hygienic till the time one takes care of the product properly and knows the right ways of washing them.

To sterilize the product, either by boiling it (in case of a menstrual cup) or drying it in the sun (in case of cloth pad), is the key to a healthy hygienic, sustainable period.

Sustainable menstruation not only helps us reduce waste on earth but also improves our relationship with our periods.

After I switched to sustainable menstrual health products, I developed a better understanding of my periods in terms of how much I bleed, what color is my blood on different days, is blood mixed with some other vaginal discharge etc. It also improved my insight into the physiological changes in my body while I’m on my periods.

What I liked the most about my experiment with them is the fact that I understood that most of my irritable and annoying behavior was a consequence of the discomfort from prolonged use of a plastic pad/DSN. It definitely can be a product of hormonal changes in the body, but I feel it is also affected by the comfort and calm of the body due to something applied externally. Thus, Sustainable Period is an advantage not only for the environment but for the human body also.

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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.

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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.

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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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