This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Purnima Khandelwal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

“Dear Health Minister, Why Are There Plastics & Chemicals In My Menstrual Pad?”

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.

I have been a menstruator for 17.5 years, and I am only 27 years old. With every cycle, I have received the gift of dysmenorrhea. I have consumed more painkillers than a child should have to. I have also remained loyal to one brand of menstrual napkins (pads), a legacy that was passed onto me by my mother and sister.

Through all the painful trauma, stains, rashes, chafing, insensitive school teachers, barfing during exams, growing well before age, and not having supportive peers- I only had one friend, and his name was Whisper. He was my saviour, made with a lot of love, care, and a soul. Befriending him was a long-drawn procedure – denial, surrender, acceptance, learning how to wear it properly – took several years, and it soon became a way of life.

Last year, a young girl asked me for a pad, and I gave her my Green XL, but she asked me if I had a ‘Pink one’ which was made of cotton and did not give her rashes. Dumbstruck and embarrassed, I started reading about the commercial menstrual pads, and realized how we all are being fooled: the “cottony” pad was not actual cotton. I went to several chemist shops, they were all flooded with big brands, and the pharmacists tried very hard to convince me that the cottony variety was the best option. I felt cheated.

What a blithering buffoon had I been all these years! Perched in the most intimate part of my body, he was a devil in disguise. Earlier this year, I found a perfect opportunity for my redemption: The YKA – Action Network Fellowship on Sustainable Menstruation. I took it up as a once in a lifetime offer to educate myself, and in the process, become a catalyst to create awareness and perhaps save a few menstruators from this experience. Some of the worrying facts that came to light through my research:

  • There are 355 million menstruators in India. That’s 30% of India’s population.
  • 57.6% of women (15–24 years) are now using menstrual pads, with some use of cloth as well (77.5% – urban populations, 48.2% – rural counterpart).
  • Commercial menstrual napkins take 500-800 years to decompose, as they are 90% plastic.
  • Over 1 billion used napkins (biomedical waste) are discarded in India PER MONTH.
  • Indian Menstrual Napkin market is predicted to grow to $522 million (approx. Rs 3,400 crore) by 2020
  • Two of the most problematic ingredients used in a commercial non-biodegradable menstrual napkin are:
    Credits: Jeunesse

    Dioxins are used to bleach the absorbent core, and it is responsible for side effects in the body, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cancer, immune system damage, impaired fertility, and diabetes. Dioxins are carcinogenic in nature.
    Superabsorbent polymers (SAPs): in the 1980s, the use of SAPs was restricted in tampons (in the US) due to its possible link with toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal illness caused by a bacterial toxin.

  • Types of pads available to us in a skewed manner

    Biodegradable materials: break down into Co2, H20, and other inorganic compounds through natural biological processes, over any time period, and under natural conditions.
    Compostable materials are a subset of biodegradable materials and undertake the same degeneration process, but within 90-180 days and under specific composting conditions. Products that claim to be eco-friendly should be compostable


    in nature.
    Oxo-degradable materials, albeit biodegradable, are plastics that have added chemicals, and if they enter the soil or water systems, can cause adverse environmental repercussions and serious health implications (such as cancers, endocrine disruption, and impaired immunity).

According to the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, sanitary waste is the responsibility of the generator, that is the manufacturers of the products. However, the manufacturers, mainly multinational corporations, do not take any responsibility for their effective collection and disposal beyond the cautionary message that they should not be flushed down the toilets.

While the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has updated standard for menstrual pads IS 5404:2019 to ensure safe use if the country is truly invested in Swachh Bharat and Safety of its Daughters, then rectifying the commercialization of the menstrual product industry and adopting a ‘no compromise on menstrual products’ safety’ approach is no longer a choice.

The Plastic Free Period Campaign aims to take menstruators’ voices to the decision-makers in the country. India can and should invest in the uterus and eco-friendly menstrual napkins and slowly do away with plastic and chemicals based commercial pads. If this resonated with you, please sign the petition ‘Dear Health Minister, Why are there Plastics & Chemicals in My Menstrual Pad?’ here.

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  1. eArth Samvarta Foundation

    We truly appreciate everything you are doing for sustainable menstrual hygiene! Loved reading about it in the article too. More power to you!
    -Chandarprabha Sharma, eArth Samvarta Foundation (eSF)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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