The beginning of the journey to “Synthetic sanitary pad free Muhamma”
Before I delve into the journey that I took searching for sustainable and Eco-friendly ways for a “Synthetic-pad free Muhamma”, let me define what I meant by “Synthetic-pad”. (A synthetic sanitary pad is the menstrual hygiene absorbent products commonly available in the market, most of which are made up of non-biodegradable materials. ‘Synthetic pads’ often contain harmful chemicals like chlorine and use artificial fragrances along with plastic-based fibers which are not friendly to the skin at all and causes health and environmental hazards)
It was the time when I joined ATREE. From my childhood, I was astonished by the beauty of the canals and waterways that lead to the sprawling Vembanad lake.
Drawing by Laurie Baker, capturing the beauty of Alleppey
However in the recent times, this beautiful little city and the rural Alleppey with its vast wetlands lost its charm due to unhindered pollution. At this juncture, I noticed the efforts of ATREE to conserve the wetlands and I took the decision to work with them . I strongly believed that with such a strong team I would certainly be able to bring a drastic positive impact in Alappuzha.
The first task I coordinated with the team was of cleaning Muppari canal in Muhamma which has been left to die for the past 10 years without any maintenance or cleanup. It is during the cleanup that I noticed heap-loads of soiled sanitary pads being fished out of the canal. It was a disappointing and shameful day for me. I could see the feeling of contempt in the eyes of men around and the helplessness of MNREGS workers! I asked the women, “how did such huge quantities of soiled pads come into the canals? The reply was another question, “what do we do then? We don’t have the option to dispose of it! “.
Since I was already a regular user of menstrual cups and cloth pads, I could step in and say with confidence that there are alternatives, “Are you ready for a change?” One of them replied, “Yes, we are…”. This woman narrated to me her daughter’s menstrual health condition and that she has got heavy bleeding and is also allergic to synthetic pads. She is apparently hesitant to use cloth while in school since it could leak and make a mess.
So, my first challenge was, how to gather the women for the “period talks” to raise awareness. I was sure that it would be beyond their imagination to gather on a stage to talk about periods!!! Fortunately, it was at the same time that, Sonal from Boondh came with an awareness session. Since she was not familiar with the language and needed a translator and I grabbed the opportunity and not only did the translation but the entire session also. (Thanks for the support from Sonal Jain, Boondh) That was my first experience talking to the rural women about menstruation. To make it more a serious matter and to bring the women to the session, we sought the help of health workers and we got a decent crowd of 100 to 120 women.
Since it was the first move, we started with an inaugural session where a few on the stage were men, including our Project coordinator, Mr.Jojo. I was surprised to hear him talking about menstruation which was very cool but I could sense that the audience was not! So, soon after the inauguration, I had to shoo away the men from the place to relieve the tension among my women audience. The moment after that first session became unforgettable for me, as most of them gathered around me and Sonal, sharing their personal experiences, mostly about the taboos and started requesting for cloth pads and menstrual cups. They placed an order for 40 menstrual cups after that single session. This response was really amazing!!! It was also a realization that the first thing we need is a space for women to open up against the myths and taboos about menstruation, and as the social stigma about menstruation bursts, that itself becomes awareness and the shift to sustainable alternatives becomes very easy. That experience built the confidence in me to carry this program forward which now took the shape of the ‘synthetic sanitary pad free Village, Muhamma”.
Reema Anand, is a professional in agriculture and has been leading the projects under Sustainable ways Menstrual Hygiene Management and the “ Synthetic sanitary pad free panchayat” program which help a number of women move to cheaper and environmental friendly alternatives for menstrual hygiene management.