These sanitary napkins cost just Rs.10 for a pack of 6. They are eco-friendly and manufactured locally by rural women. Know more about the technology and the man who made it all possible.
Talking about menstruation itself is taboo in India. But here is a man from Uttar Pradesh who not only designed low-cost sanitary napkins for poor women but is also providing lakhs of women regular employment through his initiative.
Meet Mahesh Khandelwal, the scientist and successful entrepreneur who gave shape to this project. When Khandelwal met B. Chandrakala, IAS officer and District Magistrate of Mathura, she told him about the plight of rural women and the difficulties they face during menstruation. Khandelwal paid heed to her words.
“There are around 30 crore women in India who need sanitary napkins. I thought of developing a product which can be manufactured locally by women,” he says.
Khandelwal then took on the challenge of not only redesigning and reinventing regular sanitary napkins manufactured in the market, but making them more affordable and eco friendly too.
“There are multinational companies in India who have captured the market of sanitary napkins. These pads are so costly and also harmful to the environment as they are not biodegradable,” says Khandelwal.
He then started researching the market and other issues related to sanitary pads. He read up about the problems, possible solutions and best alternatives in the current scenario.
“Being a man, I didn’t know much about menstruation. So I read up a lot, talked to women and researched the subject extensively. I also studied products in the market and finally came up with a new design that seemed like the perfect solution,” he says.
Khandelwal designed “WE” sanitary napkins, which cost only Rs. 10 per packet of six pads. The napkins are also eco-friendly- while the current products in the market have a high quantity of polymer (1.5 grams to 2 grams) that is not degradable, WE napkins have just 0.7 grams of polymer.
Other companies use a chemical adhesive to paste fibre to the polymer, which is again harmful to the environment. Khandelwal used heat seal to attach fibre with polymer, which can be later separated from each other.
WE napkins are also more lightweight compared to other napkins. These napkins absorb more leakage and last for around 12 hours as compared to other napkins which last for around six hours.
“We made sure that we manufacture the right product for rural women — good in quality and affordable too. There are a few guidelines that manufacturers have to follow while making sanitary pads and our technology fulfills every single criteria,” he says.
As Khandelwal wanted a sustainable model, he decided to have the napkins manufactured locally by women so that they too could earn a regular livelihood.
Initially, many male members in these women’s homes didn’t like their wives leaving the house to work outside with a man. But Khandelwal was not one to give up. He kept doing his work and gradually, when people saw the positive impact of the work and the extra income it was generating for the women, they started accepting Khandelwal’s ideas.
Now, the same people who made fun of him support his initiative. In the future, Khandelwal wants to take his initiative to every district of India and empower more women. The technology is so simple that most women, after very little training, can start manufacturing the pads.
In addition to designing the low cost sanitary napkin, Khandelwal has also designed an affordable machine to make these products. The machine costs just Rs. 1 lakh. Using this, ten women can manufacture 2,000 packets of sanitary napkins in a day.
The machine is designed in such a way that it requires electricity for just two hours; the rest of the work can be done manually. As many rural areas in the country lack proper power supply, this machine can be an ideal solution.
“So, the technology is not just providing low cost sanitary napkins but also employment to the women manufacturing them. Apart from this, the women who are selling and distributing the napkins get employment too. Every woman can easily earn Rs. 5,000-6,000 a month,” he says.
Red Cross Kutir Udyog is producing the machines designed by Khandelwal, selling raw materials at very reasonable prices, and give free training to manufacture these low-cost sanitary napkins. WE technology training centre units have been established in Vrindaban, Vatsalya Gram- Mathura (U.P.), and in Vadodara (Gujarat). Another one will shortly become operational in Bulandshahar (U.P.).
“As India needs 30 crore packets of sanitary napkins every month, this initiative can create employment for more than one million women in our country. Add to this exports to other underdeveloped countries and there is potential for more employment as well as bringing in foreign currency,” Khandelwal concludes.