Padman at work: Men power drive for menstrual hygiene
Appalled at the lack of menstrual hygiene among rural adolescents and the use of unsafe alternatives such as sawdust, Lakshmi Murthy and her team launched a social movement from a nondescript town in south Rajasthan that has now spread to 12 states.
What is unique about the initiative, ‘Uger’, is that apart from women, young men are encouraged to stitch pads and take part in female reproductive health training sessions. The aim behind Uger was not only to break silence on menstruation, but also to promote the use of reusable cotton sanitary pads.
“Uger means new beginnings in Mewari language. This social movement is about changing the way we see, talk and connect with our bodies and manage menstruation,” said Murthy, additional director of Udaipur-based NGO Jatan Sansthan. “We also create awareness about the harmful effects of disposable sanitary products.”
The NGO runs production units to manually cut and stitch reusable cotton pads. The team comprises six highly skilled trainers, an equal number of male and female, apart from a designer-researcher and 15 additional members.
“We train about 500 men every year. Over the past few years we have trained hundreds of men and women in stitching the cotton pad,” said Om Prakash Gayri who leads the menstrual heath training team.
The inspiration to include men in the movement came when they interacted with communities. “We heard men say women never include them in menstruation matters but talk in whispers all the time. Then, some men believe a woman is impure during menstruation,” Gayri said.
There were misconceptions and hesitancy in some women too. Women were heard saying “my husband will fall very ill or die if he steps on my pad. And, I could not tell the male teacher at school that I had menstrual cramps – so I said I have a headache and want leave to go home,” he said.
But wasn’t it hard to promote reusable pads? “Convincing women from higher economic groups to move away from the comforts of disposable pads was a challenging task. The most common question that women in cities ask is where to hang the pads for drying?” said Smriti Kedia who looks after marketing.
“There is a notion that cloth is unhygienic. It is not. Traditionally women have always used cloth. Uger is a cloth upgrade so well accepted as it is from materials that have been used by many generations,” Murthy said.
The movement has received support from experts. “I have not used plastic napkins for last one year and women of my family also have stopped using plastic pads. They give me an amazing feeling and are eco-friendly, healthy, comfortable and aesthetic,” said Dr Taru Jindal, a gynaecologist.
“The girls of my school are finding the pads very good, and the education material too was useful,” said Prayaag Joshi of Imlee Mahuaa School, Chhattisgarh.
The NGO sells reusable cotton pads through its centres and online. It doesn’t have a copyright on the product. “This ensures that knowledge is passed on and does not stay stagnant,” Murthy said.
What is wrong with disposable pads? “Disposable pads are made up of polymers, gels, chlorine from bleaching, adhesives and many other chemicals. The disposed pads do not biodegrade. Bleaching agent and plastic are not good for skin,” said Kedia.
“A woman throws away at least 120 pads a year. Uger pads come for 70 washes. Besides, cotton is a natural fibre and has a cooling effect on the skin, so there are no dangers of it harming the skin or causing problems like boils, itching or rashes,” she added.
The group’s future plan includes scaling up the work through trainings and reach to rural and urban areas alike. “I dream of a future when women are open about their menstrual needs and feel no shame when using reusable pads,” Murthy said.
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