Hundreds of women in one Indian village are adopting safer and more sustainable practices to manage their periods, thanks to a new initiative.
Some 500 women in Kerala State’s town of Muhamma have switched to menstrual cups or reusable cloth pads, and almost 200 more are in the process, the Better India reported on Thursday. Nearly 700 women publicly stopped using synthetic sanitary napkins in less than a year since Muhamma’s village council launched the menstrual hygiene project “Muhammodayam.”
There are about 6,000 menstruating women in 16 wards of Muhamma, and three wards have already stopped using synthetic sanitary pads, through the project supported by the organization Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE).
ATREE mainly focuses on restoring ecology in areas threatened by water pollution.
When the organization found “heaps” of diapers and sanitary pads accumulated in the canal connected to the state’s longest lake Vembanad in March, they took action immediately.
“Seeing all the sanitary pads in the canal during the cleaning process was our wake up call to the extent of damage that one sanitary pad is capable of,” Muhamma Village Council President J Jayalal told the Better India. “They are not only bad for the environment but also for animals who chew on them. Giving necessary funds and permission was the least we could do to bring about a change.”
One hundred thousand pads are generated every month in Muhamma alone, according to a survey conducted by ATREE. One type of plastic industrially manufactured for disposable sanitary pads requires about 500 to 800 years to decompose, according to the organization One Future Collective.
The village council donated 100,000 rupees (around $1,400) and the Indian Space Research Organization’s commercial department donated the rest of the cost to purchase menstrual cups and cloth bags and distribute them at a subsidized price –– a sixth of the actual cost.
Instead of focusing on properly disposing of pads, the organization decided to prioritize eliminating them.
ATREE organized an education workshop with 30 local accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers and local women in March to promote behavior change to support the use of the new products. The organization did not want to sell women menstrual cups and reusable pads without teaching them the importance of adopting them.
ATREE program officers were shocked to learn how many women didn’t talk about their periods. Many resisted the idea of inserting a menstrual cup in their bodies despite residents who tried to ease their hesitations. Women and girls from highly religious and conservative communities around the world believe inserting a menstrual cup or tampon will tarnish their virginity.
When Muhamma residents weren’t responsive to the workshops, ASHA workers and ATREE volunteers went door to door to talk about the products with each woman individually.
One woman, Binisha, told the Better India that she didn’t dare to use a menstrual cup without fully understanding how they work, despite knowing the benefits. She said she developed skin rashes from pads and trying to find a clean toilet to change pads every six hours was a major inconvenience.
ASHA workers and ATREE were able to change Binisha’s mind during a home visit and she became the first woman in the village to use one. Once Binisha and other women took the plunge, their family members were quick to make the switch.
Menstrual cups and reusable pads tend to be more expensive upfront but offer a more sustainable and affordable option long term. At least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities to manage their periods, and for women without access to these resources, menstrual cups are the best option.
Only 12% of people who menstruate have access to sanitary products in India, leaving the rest to resort to unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as an alternative. While Muhammodayam poses a challenge in a region where 25% menstruating women use old clothes to manage their periods and menstruation is taboo, the initiative aims to make Muhamma India’s first synthetic sanitary pad-free village within the next six months.
ATREE is working to conduct more educational menstrual health workshops in schools as well as mahila mandals, self-help groups that help women deal with issues like domestic violence and sexual rights.