Published: 09th June 2021
These reusable sanitary pads made out of banana fibres offer an affordable alternative to women in rural India
Saukhyam is a sustainable menstrual hygiene product that allows women to be comfortable during their period while protecting nature as well
Cups, Pads, Cloth, Oh My! Almost every menstruator in urban India has access to menstrual hygiene products, in fact, they have a host of options to choose from, based on their comfort level and, of course, how sustainable they are. But the same can't be said for rural India, can it? But that doesn't mean that no one is working in this area. Dubbed the ‘Pad Woman of India', Anju Bist, Co-director of Amrita SeRVe in Kollam, and her team developed Saukhyam way back in 2016. Saukhyam is a reusable sanitary pad made of cloth and banana fibres. Produced in Kerala, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, these pads are already in the market in organic stores around South India and on their online store. The first product to utilise the waste generated from bananas, this naturally absorbent material has changed the period game for women.
Excerpts from a conversation with Anju about the product itself and the work that went into it:
1. How did you reach the conclusion that sustainability was an important part of menstrual hygiene?
We started our work in rural India, in villages that were adopted by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math. These were around 101 of the most educationally backward and remote regions. Once we started working there, we realised that at the root of many health and education-related issues was the fact that no one was discussing menstrual hygiene and its importance openly. We quickly come to the conclusion that if we were able to solve this one problem, it would solve so many others.
This is where our search started. At the time, there were a few alternative options available for low-cost pads, including products from the Government of India. So when we set out to make a low-cost product of our own, it struck us that we needed a menstrual hygiene solution that helps all women and nature too. If our solution creates an exponential burden on the planet, then that's no solution at all.
PLANT IN: The pads are made with banana fibre
2. How solid do you think reusable pads are as an alternative?
I myself have used reusable pads in the past. From my personal experience, it was clear to me that marrying the banana fibre and the reusable pad concept would work even better. Only a very niche circle of people opt for reusable pads and they are generally those who are extremely environmentally knowledgeable. So it was unimaginable, at first, that it would be known to women from rural villages, let alone be accessible to them. Since we started working on this solution, I have been surprised by how people have reacted to it. And now, I have this unshakeable belief that yes, there is a good chance that this could become a mainstream option.
3. Since there is such widespread use of disposable pads, was it difficult to convince people?
It's a never-ending struggle for anyone in this line of awareness. On May 28, we conducted a Facebook Live session with five young women from different parts of the country who spoke candidly about challenges they faced and how these reusable pads helped them. These are women who have found some benefit in them, beyond just saving money. A woman from Uttarakhand said that earlier, she would take leave from school for those three to four days of her period and that there was no way anyone could convince her to go to school. Now, she's out and about.
More importantly, during these sessions, we talk about the usage of the pads. This includes how to wash and dry them. Whatever preconceived notions participants had about how difficult this was to do and how hygienic this was, we were able to change all of them. Awareness is a never-ending process. The job is never over! No matter how stupid one thinks a question is, we have to answer it patiently. Otherwise, misinformation will continue to spread.
PAD GAMES: The menstrual pads are affordable and easy to use
4. How easily are Saukhyam pads available and how affordable are they?
In Chennai, Saukhyam is available in a few organic stores and even in a handful of department stores. We decided to sell them online as well because it doesn’t move as easily in physical stores. People are able to make the product seem interesting online because these young proprietors are conscious and have used the pads themselves. In our online stores, the largest number of orders come from Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. There are orders from smaller villages as well where our awareness workshops have had an impact. The pads cost just `50 to 825 for entire sets (Huh? Like 50 per pad and 825 for bulk? what's an entire set?).
5. How have people who've used the product responded to it? Do you see a lasting change?
Those who successfully make the shift don't go back to disposable pads. There is a period of one to three months where one has to consciously make using the pad a habit. But anyone who uses reusable pads will become a natural ambassador. It's something that you would want to share with your friends and family because it’s a much better solution. There are those who struggle to make the shift and give up, but anyone who has a strong reason for making the shift will surely stick to it.