In the run-up to the Menstrual Hygiene Day that is marked all over the world on May 28, meet people and get to know about the products devised by them that are an endeavour to make the monthly cycle of woes a healthy, hygienic and happy one for many women across the country.
Author and columnist Twinkle Khanna immortalised the story of India’s menstrual man, Arunachalam Muruganantham, by writing a fictionalised account of the Padma Shri winner’s life The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land, in her book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. This year, PadMan, a film based on Khanna’s story with Akshay Kumar in the titular role hit the big screens and spoke about how the social entrepreneur started a revolution of sorts by devising an easy-to-use machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads. Choosing cinema as a medium to get talking about a subject that gets the least attention, shrouded in shame and silence, was a coming of age move in a country like ours. But Muruganantham is not alone in making a difference in the life of women by talking about periods, and devising products that make the monthly cycle of woes, a little more healthy, hygienic and happy for women. There are scores of social entrepreneurs like him, spread across the length and breadth of the country, who are working day in and day out, helping women bear it with a grin, and without harming the environment in any way, whatsoever. So there are organic and biodegradable sanitary pads, reusable cloth pads, menstrual cups, oils and gels to deal with cramps and mood swings, bags for disposing of sanitary waste, and a campaign for treatment of sanitary waste, all in an effort to change the narrative around menstruation.
For years, we, the women, have been acquainted with the traditional method of using ‘old’ cloth or modern practice of using synthetic sanitary napkins without a care for its consequences, first on our body and secondly, on the environment. The film, PadMan, put the spotlight on two inseparable topics, periods and pads. It also got people talking about #safeperiods and #sustainablemenstruation and how to go all natural in a bid to be good to body as well as environment.
Brands like Carmesi are changing the narrative with their sanitary napkins made from the antibacterial, absorbent and super soft plant-based fibres of corn and bamboo. “Almost 90% of the conventional sanitary napkin is plastic, which can be very harmful to a woman’s health in the long run. It’s like exposing the most sensitive and permeable area of the body to a host of chemicals and synthetic components. These ingredients can directly enter one’s body through the bloodstream. Also, these synthetic pads once used, are dumped into acres of landfills as no viable decomposition solution is in place,” says Tanvi Johri, Founder and CEO, who launched Carmesi in 2017. The brand is young entrepreneur Johri’s contribution to make women like her feel completely safe and comfortable during their period without any issues of rashes or allergies, and are 100% biodegradable.
Safe to wear
It is a given that wearing disposable pads that are commonly whitened with bleach and made up of plastic and chemically treated cotton or wood pulp is like wearing plastic panties with residual pesticides and dioxins some of which have been linked to forms of cancer and other diseases. Woven around this thought is the success story of Eco Femme, a women-led social enterprise founded in 2010. “We produce, promote and sell cloth washable menstrual pads, an alternative menstrual product, which lasts for approx 75 washes. Cloth menstrual pads are rapidly gaining acceptance around the world for their health, environmental and cost-saving benefits,” says the company. Apart from this, the NGO provides menstrual health education to adolescents, and open dialogues on menstruation all along the way. The response has been overwhelming and going by the sales figures, the market for the alternative menstrual product is fast-catching up with Indian women, from 9043 pads sold in 2012-13 to more than ten lakhs sold in 2017-18, there has been a steady growth year-on-year.
What started as a venture to bring in cost-effective diagnostic kits for cervical cancer screening helped Manish Malani and Ashish Malani learn about menstrual cups and the positive impact of its usage on health and environment. It took over a year of R&D to develop the final prototype, and Shecup was launched by the duo in January 2010. A menstrual cup is a reusable menstrual sanitary protection; Shecup is made of health grade, non-toxic, non-allergic Silicone and has been quality certified as per the US pharmacopoeia norms.
“Being the first ones in Asia, we had to start from educating doctors about the concept and what menstrual cups are. There were few user references hence convincing girls/women to use was tough. There obviously were no budgets for awareness advertisement campaigns which meant a lot of legwork to reach out to people. Menstruation is a taboo subject. But slowly sustainable menstrual hygiene management solutions are being talked about and discussed openly,” says Ashish. In the process, greater awareness led to a rise in demand for Shecup. “There are now multiple brands, and hence the noise is loud enough for people to take note of menstrual cups,” says Manish.
The product has been clinically tested and recommended by gynaecologists. It is mostly sold online, either through the company’s website www.shecup.com or associate sites and e-tailers such as Amazon.
To make it easy
Cramps and mood swings go hand-in-hand with the monthly cycle. But look no further; there come a gel and oil to ease that pain. Bengaluru-based Svana Therapy was founded by two nature enthusiasts, Piyush Grover and Shraddha Pandey in November 2017. “We, at Svana, craft and curate products for health, beauty and overall well-being, using the recipes, ways and methods, which were used by our ancestors around the globe. The true definition of wellness is the complete integration of Body, Mind and Spirit. Our products offer a holistic experience by focusing on all three,” says Shraddha.
Three months ago, the company’s first product – Crimson Week – made its debut online. “It is one of its kind product, which deals with period pain and PMS related issues. Crimson Week is a natural pack of Holy Cramp Gel, a period pain relief gel, and Blues Moon Roll On, a roll for PMS relief. Both are 100% natural.”
The gel is a blend of 100% pure grade essential oils such as lavender, geranium, cypress, clary sage, ylang-ylang, and marjoram along with aloe vera while the roll-on is a 100% pure grade geranium, ylang-ylang and neroli oils. “These oils are known for their efficacy in dealing with spasmodic pain, and anxiety related to hormonal changes. They also soothe your nerves and leave you calmer than before,” quip the duo, who have had their customers coming back with amazing experiences after using these products.
Dispose of sensibly
The last but the most important task is to put it away the right way. Thanks to a handful of entrepreneurs, there are a plethora of environment-friendly, biodegradable disposal bags that come from DOMKINPPY, SanNap and Sirona and for a discreet, hygienic and convenient disposal of used sanitary napkins; all available through e-tailers.
Pune-based co-operative of waste-pickers SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling) in collaboration with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and waste-pickers union, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), aims to inculcate sanitary waste management techniques in more than five lakh households of Pune. It kicked off a massive, city-wide “Red Dot” campaign in the city in February 2017.
“The Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat had been in talks with the central health ministry as well as with sanitary product manufacturers under EPR (Extended Producers Responsibility) to take care of the sanitary waste generated, but nothing came out of it. SWaCH, KKPKP and PMC joined hands to launch the Red Dot Campaign. The campaign urges citizens to wrap their sanitary waste and mark it with a red dot,” explains Ravikumar Damre, Outreach Assistant, SWaCH.
More than 2800 waste pickers have been given training for handling such kind of a waste. If such kind of sanitary waste wrapped package comes in daily waste, they have been instructed not to open it and give it to the secondary system -PMC vehicle. To create awareness, more than 1300 pushcarts have been painted with Red Dot message on it. Rallies and street plays are held at regular intervals to create awareness. “SWaCH Mitra Sathya Natrajan and Nirmala Thormothe, as well as SWaCH’s Outreach Assistant Karishma Chavan, are conducting Red Dot campaign informative sessions in schools, colleges and community level,” he says.
The campaign has been well-received in Pune, and those who would like to join it can spend a few hundred to buy these Sanitary Towel Disposal Bags (ST Bags) through SWaCH’s website, swachcoop.com.