New Delhi: Have you ever talked to your maid about periods? Have you ever thought what does your maid use during menstruation? Sanitary napkins just like you and me? You might be wrong! 21-year-old Manal Bole from Pune asked a similar innocuous question to her maid and realised that she and most of the women of her community depend on a piece of cloth to see them through their monthly. Manal’s maid or the women of her community are not alone. 88 per cent of the menstruating women in India depend upon unhygienic alternatives like cloth piece, dry leaves and so on.
Back in December 2017, I was generally speaking to my maid. I was also menstruating at that time so I just happened to ask my maid about sanitary napkins and related things. She told me that most of them don’t have access to sanitary napkins and at her place; both mother and daughter use same cloth again and again. They will wash it and use it. I was stunned to know this, as using cloth during menstruation is unsafe and then sharing same cloth is quite unhygienic, recalls Manal while speaking to NDTV.
The two minute chit-chat with her help made Manal think about the prevalent problem and drove her to work towards a solution. A student of Symbiosis school for Liberal Arts, Pune, Manal thought of providing sanitary napkins to all the 400 women and girls of the community in Viman Nagar.
Manal along with her friend Lakshit took the crowdfunding route and talked to her friends, classmates, family members and enlightened them about the problems faced by these women and why menstrual hygiene is important for them as well. Back then the duo managed to provide a monthly stock of sanitary napkins to 400 women. The good thing was women accepted sanitary napkins whole heartedly. They didn’t have any mental block or didn’t get deterred by all the taboos surrounding menstruation. They considered menstruation being a natural process. It’s just that purchasing sanitary napkins was out of their reach.
Manal was happy with being able to provide better menstrual hygiene to atleast 400 women, but that was not enough for her and her friend Lakshit. They wanted a permanent solution to this thing.
Providing sanitary napkins once won’t solve the problem and I can’t fund every month. So, I decided to take a break and come up with a permanent solution to this problem. I and my friend Lakshit did a lot of research and decided that we should provide eco-friendly sanitary napkins to these women. Reason being, the way these women dispose sanitary napkins is quite unhygienic. They use public bathrooms and used pads lie there for as long as someone comes to pick the waste, said Manal.
The duo started looking for organisations providing eco-friendly sanitary pads and found one – Aakar Innovations. The organisation employs rural women who make compostable sanitary napkins and sell these. As soon as they found a solution, they decided to work towards it.
I’ll be leaving soon as I am graduating and before that I am trying to procure funds to provide these women a stock of sanitary napkins for next three months. For this we need ₹ 36,000 as each pack costs ₹ 30 and we need 1200 packs of sanitary napkins. Again, this is not the permanent solution, but we have plans for that also, tells Manal.
Explaining the future course of action, Manal said, we will be distributing sign-up sheets among our college students and friends. In the first week of every month we will collect ₹ 30 from all those who have signed to help these women and use it to purchase and distribute sanitary napkins among 400 women and girls.
Talking about why the duo is targeting only 400 women, Manal said,
We don’t want to aim too high and then not able to continue with that. We don’t want it to be a one-time thing. It is crowdfunding and we are not sure how much money we will able to raise so for now we are focusing only on one community. It is safe for both them and us.