With the release of the movie Padman, there is a renewed interest in the problem of menstrual hygiene for women living beyond the cities. But did you know that disposable sanitary pads are an environmental disaster? It would take 800 years for a soiled sanitary pad to break down — the soiled pad discarded today will be around eight centuries from now! And the only solution to this is reusable pads made of biodegradable material found in nature. That’s where Saukhyam Pads, with banana fibre as the absorbent material, comes to the rescue. Anju Bist, the co-creator of this ambitious project, opens up about the initiative and how the project provides employment to rural women.
Saukhyam Pads is the initiative of Amrita SeRVe (Self Reliant Village) project of Mata Amritanandamayi Math. “The mastermind behind this is Mata Amritanandamayi — she initiated the process a couple of years ago. We were looking for a solution for menstrual hygiene that doesn’t lead to a major waste disposal problem. Banana fibre is one of the most natural absorbent materials and when we ran a pilot test we got some amazing results. The pads dry very fast, absorb much more than other cloth pads, are easy to wash and more comfortable than disposable pads. More importantly, each pad lasts 4 to 5 years,” explains Anju.
An eco-friendly option
Saukhyam reusable pads have a base piece and an insert piece — the base can be worn the whole day and the inserts (made of banana fibre, which does the main job of absorption) can be changed as needed. The base has a leak-proof layer and has wings that keep the pad in place. “There are 2-fold inserts, 3-fold inserts and 4-fold inserts. The 3-fold insert has been designed especially for the working woman — it offers many hours of protection. For heavy flow or night-long protection, there is the night pad (4-fold) insert. We use cotton cloth for both base and insert,” she says.
Making rural women self-reliant
With production centers in Telangana, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Anju and team are planning to set up production centres across the country. “A good income comes into the villages with sales in urban areas. One of the best parts of the project is that these women no longer have to seek any labour work outside their village, because they get a regular income while staying in the village itself.”
Moreover, the knowledge that something they are making is being accepted by women worldwide and is potentially needed by half the world’s population is empowering. “What better way than this to make a village self-reliant? We hope that in the future, even beyond the income to the women, the profits will start making a difference to the same village communities where the pads are being made.”
The right time to make a switch
If all women of menstruating age in India were to start using disposable sanitary pads, a whopping 585 crore soiled pads would be discarded every year. How does one get rid of these? Burning them releases harmful toxins. Burying is no good either, because the pads are absolutely non-biodegradable. “It’s tough for a woman to adapt to change. It’ll take time for them to experiment with reusable pads. We are hopeful to make a change and create awareness. Also, reusable pads are needed to combat the waste management problem.”