Monday, February 26, 2018

No Harm To Mother Earth

The banana fibre sanitary pads brought out by the Amrita SeRVe (Self Reliant Village) project of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, can be reused for three years and do not harm the environment

Photos: From left: Anju Bist, Swadha Dwivedi, and Deepa H. Photo by Albin Mathew; Sanitary pads  

By Shevlin Sebastian

On October 9, last year, Mata Amritanandamayi's birthday, several stalls were set up at Amritapuri, Kollam. One of them was selling reusable sanitary pads. The stall was manned by Swadha Dwivedi, 19. Soon, a middle-aged man came up and said, “How did you come up with this idea?”

Swadha felt embarrassed and said, “This stall is only for women.”

The man said, “You are being discriminatory. You can tell us, men, too.”  Later, when Swadha told Mata Amritanandamayi about this incident, the latter said, “You are US born and brought up. So you should not feel shy. You must stay strong. By talking about the pad with a man, you can remove the stigma around menstruation.”

The pad in question is called Saukhyam, a Sanskrit word which means happiness and well-being. It is made of banana fibre. “It is a naturally occurring absorbent substance and has medicinal properties,” says Anju Bist, co-director Amrita SeRVe (Self-Reliant Village). “Nobody has used banana fibres for reusable pads. Amma wanted us to do this.” 

First, the stalk is cut. Then it is put in an extractor machine, where it is converted into thin strips. These have to be washed in baking soda, to make them soft. Thereafter, they are dried in the sun for five days. Then several women in villages administered by Mata Amritanandamayi make the pads. “It provides a livelihood for them,” says Anju.

The great advantage of these pads is that they can be reused. “You can wash it and put it out in the sun to dry,” says Anju. “Also, since they are highly absorbent, a working woman does not have to change them during the time she spends at the office. Finally, there is an urgent necessity for these pads, because of the environmental damage caused by disposable sanitary pads.”

Here are the alarming statistics: Over the entire menstruating life of a woman she will discard anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 pads. “There are 360 million women who are of menstruating age in India today,” says Swadha. “If, on an average, they use 12 to15 pads per monthly cycle it will add up to 432 million soiled pads that weigh 900 tonnes and enough to fill 320 football fields.”

Meanwhile, one of the attractive qualities of Saukhyam is that it is available in different colours like red, green, yellow and blue. “We want people to buy their pads as if they are buying a salwar kameez,” says Deepa H, a staff member of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. “The aim is to remove the stigma around menstruation. Another reason is that because of the fabric, the stains are not visible.”

The prices range from Rs 200 to Rs 2000 depending on whether you are buying individual day/night pads or in packs. “But these can be reused for up to three years,” says Anju. “On the other hand, a woman ends up spending Rs 60,000 over her entire menstrual period during her lifetime.” 

The good news is that customers are happy. “I have used these pads for a year now and feel very comfortable. The banana fibres do absorb well. I like the idea that these pads use natural resources,” says the Mexico-based Padma Gonzales. Adds Sudha Pillet from France: “These washable pads are practical and healthy. They prevent the use of synthetic materials which are harmful to the environment and our health. They are ideal for everyday life. The washing is easy and the pads dry quickly.” 

Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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