Remarkably, this breakthrough came in a region where some 25 per cent of menstruating women still use old clothes and periods are considered a taboo!
In a praiseworthy move, close to 700 women in Muhamma, a village in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, have publicly renounced the use of synthetic sanitary napkins during menstruation. What’s more, 500 of them have switched to safer options like menstrual cups or cloth pads, while the rest are in the process.
Want a hassle-free period? Check out a range of menstrual hygiene products, from eco-friendly pads to low-cost menstrual cups, here.
The best part?
It took less than a year for the Muhamma Gram Panchayat to achieve this extraordinary feat under a menstrual hygiene project called ‘Muhammodayam.’
The project was started in March last year by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), a non-profit organisation in collaboration with the gram panchayat.
The final goal is to make Muhamma India’s first synthetic sanitary pad-free gram panchayat in the next six months.
There are about 6,000 menstruating women in 16 wards of the panchayat. So far, three wards have successfully gone synthetic pad-free.
What makes this initiative remarkable is that it is being achieved in a region where 25 per cent of the menstruating women still use old clothes when bleeding and menstruation remains a taboo topic.
How it All Began
Bengaluru-based ATREE predominantly works towards restoring ecology in areas where water pollution is rampant.
As part of their work, they learnt about water clogging in Muhamma in March last year and reached the place to lend a helping hand.
The not-for-profit organisation assessed the deplorable plight of water bodies and kickstarted a canal rejuvenation project in Muhamma.
“We found heaps of diapers and sanitary pads accumulated in the canal that is connected to Kerala’s longest lake, Vembanad. As per our survey, approximately one lakh pads are generated every month. Instead of putting our focus on the systematic disposal of pads, we decided to get rid of them altogether,” Reema Anand, Program Officer, ATREE tells The Better India.
When ATREE approached Panchayat President J Jayalal offering a solution to the waste problem, he immediately came on board.
“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. 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,” Jayalal tells TBI.
The panchayat donated one lakh and ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix bore the rest of the cost. The money was used to purchase menstrual cups and cloth bags and distribute them as subsidised rates.
While the cloth pad packets are being given at Rs 80 instead of Rs 250, the cups come at 1/6th of the actual cost.
Breaking The Taboo
More than making eco-friendly menstrual hygiene options accessible at affordable prices, it was changing the behavioural pattern that was challenging.
Instead of giving the menstrual cups and cloth pads for free and expecting them to adapt, ATREE first organised an awareness workshop with 30 local ASHA workers and local women in March last year.
The workshop turned out to be eye-opening for both Reema and the local women.
“I was shocked to know the extent of ignorance that prevailed in the region. To begin with, no one openly spoke about periods. After much persuasion, some cleared their doubts. Inserting an object inside the vagina did not go down well with a few women,” Reema shares.
Meanwhile, 36-year-old Binisha, a resident who attended the workshop, tried raising her hand several times to clear doubts on using a menstrual cup but the social stigma around menstruation silenced her.
As anticipated, the workshop was not enough to bring the change.
So, the ASHA workers and ATREE volunteers went from to door-to-door for a one-on-one conversation with women.
“Even after knowing the benefits of the menstrual cup, I lacked the courage to make the switch. When the ASHA workers knocked on my door, it was like serendipity,” Binisha, a homemaker, tells The Better India.
This time, Binisha did not shy away from raising her doubts. “Right from the insertion method to removing it, I wanted to be sure about everything. On learning about how safe and convenient it is, I volunteered to try a sample product,” she mentions.
Interestingly, this happened when she was menstruating!
By the end of her period, Binisha was a convert and thus, became the first woman in the panchayat to use a menstrual cup.
Sharing her experience of using the cup, she says, “I would develop skin rashes from using the regular pads. Finding a hygienic toilet to change pads every six hours was another headache. Besides being cost-effective and environment-friendly, the cup is very convenient and easy to use. My sister-in-law also switched to a cup after learning about my verdict.”
Maya, a homemaker, also followed suit and was instrumental in making two of her cousins make the shift.
Like Binisha and Maya, close to 700 women stepped out of generation-old societal customs, filled up the form and ordered cloth pads or cups for a greener future.
Giving examples of women like Binisha and Maya, ATREE is now aggressively conducting educational workshops in schools and Mahila Mandals.
Fantastic initiatives like these are an answer to the rising problem of environmental degradation and regions like Muhamma prove that efforts at the individual level can go a long way in bringing about a big difference.
Still need some inspiration to switch to cups? Read this article and embark on menstrual hygiene journey.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)