A report from 2011, claims that only 12 % of India’s 335 million women use sanitary napkins while menstruating because of lack of access to good quality and affordable menstrual care products . A major reason for this is the fact that pads are generally manufactured using expensive machinery, which makes them unaffordable for many women living in rural India.
In an attempt to address this issue, a product driven startup called Saral Designs developed machines, which they designed in-house so that they can start manufacturing good quality sanitary napkins at the decentralised level.
The machines are easily replicable and can be set up within Rs. 10 lakh. This means that such units can be set up across India without middlemen.
IITians Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta founded Saral Designs in June 2015. Suhani says, “While conducting some research in this field, we found out that 23 % of girls in India dropout from schools once they start menstruating due to the lack of proper facilities. They resort to using unhygienic material, which leads them to contracting reproductive tract infections. A lot of government schools and NGOs are creating awareness about hygienic menstrual practices, but the challenge is finding good quality products. Small-scale manufactures produce inexpensive pads but the material they use isn’t very good. And the number of pads that they make isn’t enough to sustain the costs borne by the company for electricity, manpower etc,.”
The Saral team is made up of nine young engineers from IITs, NITs and BITS Pilani and has around 15 people working on production and local sales. Suhani thinks of that their background in learning technology has been very useful in developing an easy to replicate, low-cost machine for producing sanitary napkins. She says, “We managed to make a machine that produces high-quality pads 30 times faster than the average. Our product is called Aisha Ultra XL, which are “ultra-thin pads with wings” and they are sold at Rs. 30 for a pack seven. The price is pretty low compared to other rival brands. We’ve been producing these pads for nine months and have managed to sell more than 2 Lakh pieces so far.”
But aside from selling their products at pharmacies, the Saral team has reached out to women in living in villages in Maharashtra as well.
Suhani says, “We have a team of 20 women, who go door-to-door and make girls aware of safe menstrual practises. They also let the girls try our products and sell it to them on a monthly basis if they like it. Additionally, we have distributed vending machines in schools and colleges across Mumbai.”
The Saral team has also started partnering with NGOs in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh to make pads accessible to young women in remote villages. One such organisation is Shiksharth, an NGO working in the tribal dominated area called Sukma, Chattisgarh. With this partnership, they hope to educate 1000 girls about menstrual hygiene practices and provide them with one year’s worth supply of sanitary napkins.
So, how this partnership happen? Suhani says, “In 2015, I met Ashish Shrivastava, the founder of Shiksharth while doing my Acumen fellowship. The Acumen fellowship is run by a US-based organisation that conducts fellowship programmes for leadership development. When Ashish did his Teach for India fellowship, he realised that girls in India, don’t drop out of school as much in urban areas as they do in tribal areas after they start menstruating. So he decided to move to Chattisgarh where this situation is very critical and set up a school. He’s fighting to convince families to let their daughters finish their education. We know that education is a way out of poverty and violence. Also, there is a need to remove the taboo around menstruation around such areas. So, we decided what better way to help these girls than by teaching them good practices and providing them with sanitary napkins.”
The Saral team will train volunteers in Shiksharth to teach the girls in two batches — the first would be made up of students between 6th-10th standard and the other will have students between 8th-9th standard.
The curriculum for hygienic menstrual practices includes modules on reproductive biology and other relevant information about keeping their bodies clean while they are menstruating. Suhani says, “We’ve included information from UNICEF and Menstrupedia in the curriculum. But we also try and remove local superstitions/taboos surrounding the topic through playful intervention in the form of games and questionnaires. If we manage to successfully train the volunteers at Shiksharth, it would mean that our project would be sustainable over a long period of time as well.”
You can help 1,000 girls in Sukma continue their higher education despite having their periods, by donating here.