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3 Ways You Can Menstruate The Sustainable Way!

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by Anusha Kapoor, Project Assistant at Badlaav SRF

The average menstruator throws out an estimated 250-300 pounds of pads, plugs, and applicators in their lifetime. Unfortunately, these either clog sewage drains or find space in overflowing landfills and could lie there for up to 800 years until they decompose. This way, it turns toxic and hazardous to human health and could further human contact with microorganisms and pathogens.

While we often talk about making sanitary napkins available at affordable prices in rural areas, how many of us have talked about switching to eco-friendly products during menstruation? ‘Green Menstruation’ has caught the eye of several menstruators around the world, a few of whom have come up with brilliant environmentally sustainable products for menstrual hygiene management. A few of these products are the menstrual cup, the reusable pad, and the eco-friendly sanitary napkin.

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What menstrual products do you use?

The Menstrual Cup

As sustainable menstruation becomes a topic of interest and discussion, the menstrual cup has gained the attention of the urban menstruator. Based on the fundament of being inserted into the vaginal canal and staying inside by creating suction, it collects menstrual blood with no leaks on the outside.

The Menstrual Cup is cost-effective and affordable. Its make-up comprises health-grade, non-toxic, and non-allergic silicone, a highly durable material that makes it last for at least 8-10 years. While using the synthetic pad would’ve generated high amounts of potentially toxic waste, the menstrual cup, after usage, would only require a quick clean-up, generating no menstrual waste. The usage of a menstrual cup reduces the burden on landfills while reducing the monthly expenditure on the purchase of menstrual products as well. This makes it a great investment.

A few Indian brands promoting the menstrual cup are Sirona, Rustic Art, Boondh and Safecup:

  • Sirona is an award-winning Indian brand committed to addressing intimate and menstrual hygiene issues that aren’t discussed adequately in our country. One of the many products they sell is the menstrual cup. Available in a variety of sizes, it is supposed to last for up to 12 hours without any odour or rashes.
  • Rustic Art is an organic, natural, vegan, and cruelty-free brand started in 2010, sustainably manufacturing products ranging from home care to personal hygiene. Rustic Art promotes ‘green menstruation’ through menstrual cups to create awareness regarding its advantages over other sanitary products in the market. Their production, in turn, generates employment for rural women through stitching and packaging.
  • Boondh is an enterprise that makes available menstrual cups in Indian at affordable prices, ensuring great quality and comfort. Going ahead, Boondh plans to diversify into enhancing education on the aspects of menstrual health management, developing sustainable products relating to hormonal and psychological health, and reaching more communities.
  • Safecup, another major Indian brand designing and manufacturing its menstrual cups in the USA, guarantees perfect quality and can provide a first timer with assistance. The rim of the cup is enhanced to ensure that the cup is sealed to prevent any leaks, and a perforated grip makes it easy to pull the cup out.

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What are your concerns with menstrual cups?

The major hurdles to the usage of the menstrual cup have been the inhibitions and the taboo surrounding it. Most menstruators are uncomfortable with the fact that a menstrual product would require insertion into the body. However, this would only be a step in the process of knowing our bodies and our flow better. Prior to its usage, be sure to consult with your gynaecologist for an ‘all-clear’!

Back To The Basics: Reusable Pads

In an attempt to reduce the amount of menstrual waste generated every day, initiatives and start-ups like EcoFemme and Shomota Women have taken up a bold move to go back to the usual ‘kapda’ or cloth.

  • EcoFemme, based in Auroville, a hub for innovators and changemakers, is a women-led enterprise founded in 2010. Their goal is to create environmental and social change by revitalizing menstrual practices, including training the facilitators and providing menstruation-centred education to young girls. They produce and sell washable cloth pads made of organic cotton, comprising layers that are ultra-absorbent and leakproof.
  • Shomota is an Indian brand giving the sustainable menstruator another choice for reusable cloth pads. Breaking down the barriers of gender inequality by training women from the marginalized communities of Kolkata, Shomota brings empowering menstrual products to the front. For every Shomota Pad purchased, Shomota’s ‘Pads for Empowerment Program’ provides marginalized women with pads for a healthy and sustainable way to care for their period.

However, questions have been raised about the hygienic aspect of the reusable pad. The cloth pad needs to be boiled often to kill any residual bacteria, making it a product requiring high maintenance. Since the cloth pads need to be dried in the sunlight after washing, it might not be suitable in areas and around people who still consider menstruation shameful.

The plight of the Rohingya women in North Delhi, for example, puts forth a similar argument. The taboo around menstruation has led them to dry their menstrual cloths in dim spaces with no sunlight or people around, furthering the issues of hygiene.

Revamping The Sanitary Napkin

The Eco-friendly Sanitary Napkin is a perfect alternative for the usual plastic sanitary napkin. Unlike the conventional pads that do not degrade, thereby creating sanitary waste management issues, the eco-friendly sanitary pad is made up of completely biodegradable materials like corn and bamboo. The corn starch makes the pads remarkably gentle and irritation-free, and the bamboo fibre is naturally absorbent, anti-bacterial, & odour-resistant.

Some Indian brands selling the naturally produced sanitary napkin are Carmesi and Heyday:

  • Carmesi, founded in 2017, is a brand offering premium, all-natural sanitary napkins made using natural ingredients like corn and bamboo. Made without the use of any harmful synthetics or chemicals like sulphates, parabens, and chlorine, the pad keeps your body healthy, safe, and infection-free. The pads come with a chic resealable disposable bag, completely biodegradable as well, attending to the need for clean and sure disposal of the pad.
  • Heyday was launched in 2017 with its innovative personal care products. From product to packaging, Heyday products are biodegradable, decomposing under the action of microorganisms in the air, water, or soil within two years from the disposal. Their sanitary napkins are made from natural corn and bamboo fibres with no chemicals, chlorine and dioxin bleach.

With our world held on pause in this current state of crisis, taking time to understand the implications our everyday life has on the Earth is quite essential. While menstruation is inevitable, something that almost half the world’s population goes through, it is essential to understand how we can lessen the load on our immediate environment whilst also having our needs met. While a few menstruators might not be comfortable or even aware of sustainable menstrual products, it is important to understand what a big difference it could make to switch to an eco-friendly product for menstruation.

Here at Badlaav, Radhika, Munira and Rosalie, swear by the menstrual cup. They use it regularly and assert that the cup has made their periods more manageable and easier!

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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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