Menstruation has been in the air in India. It’s clearly on people’s consciousness more than usual. In the past few months there have been a couple of campaigns that caught my eye. The first one, sponsored by Stone Soup and Women Endangered, is called #LetsTalkPeriod. Here is their video:
Here’s the problem: anyone who knows India, and especially anyone who works in menstrual hygiene and health in India, knows that semi-urban and rural women face problems with menstrual health and hygiene because of all sorts of taboos. This leads women to feel uncomfortable drying a cloth pad, for example, in direct sunlight where it can be naturally disinfected. EcoFemme’s short film Masika makes this context clear:
Given these taboos that women have about their bodies, I fail to understand how an organisation of urban Bangalorean women think that their love of the menstrual cup will translate to vastly different cultural contexts. The idea that they are only wanting to donate the menstrual cup and not cloth pads as an environmentally friendly option is quite sad. It shows that these ladies’ own agenda trumps their real concern for what would work for these women, which requires giving them the option to choose among an array of choices.
Likewise, a recent NGO called Saafkin has been running a campaign called Give Her 5. Again, it comes from admirable intentions: wanting to give girls back the 5 days of school they lose each year because of their period. Here is their video:
For ₹150 donation per girl, the girl receives 2 “reusable” pads made by Saafkins (they don’t have a website, but from what I can make out on the Give Her 5 website, they seem to be plastic and disposable, not reusable. It seems a bit odd that an organisation focused on health and hygiene wouldn’t at least put information about what their product is made out of on the FAQ page.
In stark contrast, EcoFemme has been running a programme for a few years now called Pad for Pad that targets school girls. By charging an extra ₹86 per international order, they are able to divert that money to fund a programme to give her 4 actually reusable cloth pads (usable for at least 6 years) as well as a travel pouch in which she can place soiled pads if she changes them at school.
Notice: it’s cheaper, it’s more sustainable, and it’s been going on for 4 years! If everyone donating to Give Her 5 directed their funds to EcoFemme instead I think there would be a much more sustainable project that is good for female health and mother nature.
Finally, there is an interesting petition going around that is asking Arun Jaitley to shift tax cuts for disposable menstrual pads and instead offer such cuts for reusable menstrual hygiene products. What is nice about this petition, unlike the campaigns above, is that it acknowledges the crucial role that cloth pads have to play in correcting this problem of disposable products.
There are lots of people doing things right – many of whom I learned about at the EcoFemme workshop last month. I am especially heartened by the work that the Sustainable Menstruation in Kerala Collective is doing. Even the young Arjun Unnikrishnan who started a group called the Red Circle straight out of high school to do this training and education about sustainable menstruation! There are a couple of fascinating articles about menstruation in Kerala that I recommend, which you can read here and here.
The bottom line is this: we need to look for solutions that are good for our bodies and for mother nature if we want to be healthy and happy.