In India, anything related to menstruation is treated like a state secret, whispered about behind closed doors and wrapped in brown paper. As a result young girls across the nation grow up ignorant about this all too natural process and the knowledge that they do gain is archaic and in no way up to the international hygiene standards that a lot of us take for granted. In fact, a 2008 UN study showed that a mere six per cent of our population uses sanitary napkins as opposed to 96 per cent in Europe.
Nevertheless, there are a few pioneers who are striving to create new outlook on the subject, pushing for better health education and the products to make it happen. One such visionary is 54-year-old Shyam Sunder Bedekar from Vadodaram in Gujarat. In 2010, he and his wife Swati set up the Vatsalaya Foundation, an NGO promoting better health and hygiene awareness among rural women. Although his background was in textile dye and chemical trading, Shyam is known as the mind behind Sakhi, a brand of sanitary pads that cost only 2.50 rupees and a line of dispensing machines that widened their network as well as encouraged more women to adopt this more modern method. They also trained local women to make the pads themselves, thus providing them with useful skills and a steady source of income.
However, once this was implemented a new challenge arose, where were these women supposed to dispose of their used pads? In many areas the waste disposal facilities are very basic and women found it difficult to discard used sanitary napkins and were switching back to the ‘easy,’ reusable and washable cloth pads. Shyam and Swati finally came to the conclusion that the best and most eco-friendly option was to burn the pads. Regular incinerators were quite pricey so they decided to design their own, and thus. the Ashudhdhinashak (remover of impurities), was born.
For INR 2000 one of these terracotta incinerators will take care of all your disposal needs. The ash that’s accumulated afterwards is basically wood pulp and makes a great fertilizer, so nothing goes to waste; the base is weighted with water that is said to discourage pests. It’s designed in such a manner so as to look as normal and as inconspicuous as possible inorder to minimise that embarrassment women may feel in most conservative of areas.
With this project along with many others that are springing up across the country India seems poised to enter a new phase. Hopefully these inventions, NGO’s and organisations will help open up conversation about menstrual hygiene and protect future generations of women from wandering blindly into the same misguided habits that have caused so much disease, discomfort, discrimination and unhappiness in the past.
Featured image courtesy of Youth Ki Awaaz
Words: Shireen Jamooji