Eco Femme- changing the lives of rural women

Story by Uttirna Gnanadipta

A session with school girls for the Pad for Pad initiative
A session with school girls for the Pad for Pad initiative, Photo source- Eco Femme

In a time when most of the women prefer using the disposable sanitary pad, Eco Femme, a women-led social enterprise, is producing and selling washable cloth pads that can be used until 75 washes. Unlike the conventional pads,these pads have been designed so as to be eco-friendly and non-irritant to the skin. Based in Auroville, Pondicherry, it works with an NGO that further works with several Self Help Groups (SHGs). Apart from selling these pads, Eco Femme has focused in changing the mindset of the rural women who have a poor understanding of the menstrual cycle and the cultural taboo tagged with it.

It has flagged off the Pad for Pad programme which works for the distribution of subsidized washable cloth pads to the girls in rural areas. For every purchase of a packet outside India, Rs 86 goes in providing these eco-friendly pads to girls who don’t have access to clean menstrual products.

Kathy Walkling, Co Founder, Eco Femme said,”The main way we work is through the implementation partners in various states. When it comes to the Pad for Pad programme, our partners work with adolescent girls in schools and we provide guidance and training regarding menstrual health. It’s a slower process as we tell them to start with some baseline studies to understand the current condition on menstrual practices in their community. Once the baseline studies are over, we see if it gives a positive indication of introducing cloth pads.”

The social taboo related to menstrual cycle is gross in rural India and there have been numerous dialogues in bringing a Sanitary Pad Revolution in the rural belt of India. In these areas, the strong culture of using cotton cloths during menstruation is still prevalent and as a part of menstrual health education, the government and even the doctors have been endorsing conventional sanitary pads to the women. But only an iota of the population is concerned about the amount of trash these conventional pads add to the landfill. Moreover it takes hundreds of years for a conventional pad to decompose.

In June 2011, the Indian Government initiated a scheme to provide free disposable pads to adolescent girls (10-19 years) in rural India. This scheme meant that at least 90 million disposable pads are tossed aside or burnt every month.
Since centuries women have used cotton cloth during their menses, which is decomposable and non-irritant to the skin. It seems to be the only alternative for the disposable sanitary pads.

Though the conventional pads are endorsed by the doctors, the fact that these pads create skin rashes and infections cannot be denied. Dr Gita Arjun, Retired Gynecologist, told that during the menses, the ph level changes inside the vagina (normal physiology), providing a suitable atmosphere for the yeast to grow and the plastic in the disposable pads aggravates it even more. She added that choosing cloth pad is a restorative action and expresses a way of caring for our bodies and taking responsibility for our impact on earth.

It’s high time when people should start creating an open dialogue on eco-friendly usage of menstrual products and understand the trajectory of the conventional pads being disposed in the lakes or being added to the landfill.

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