Published: 26th February 2019
Meet the real Padwoman M Muthulakshmi who is distributing eco-friendly sanitary napkins for free to those who can't afford it
M Muthulakshmi is creating a difference in the lives of women and the environment by handing out biodegradable sanitary pads
A couple of years ago, when the roads of Chennai were flooded and people were distressed, one auditor was at home wondering why the drains were blocked and the streets flooded. She realised that sanitary pads were one of the reasons for the blockage. While she realised that she can’t stop sanitary napkins from being flushed down the drain, reusable eco-friendly sanitary pads might be the answer. So, she started distributing eco-friendly sanitary pads for free to people who can’t afford it. Since then, she has been helping people in areas of climatic distress and women who are mentally challenged.
Tuticorin-born M Muthulakshmi (38), who currently works as an auditor in Chennai, has always felt concern for mentally-challenged women in the city and its neighbouring districts. Empathetically, she says, “How will mentally-challenged women understand what’s happening to them during their period and what will they do in situations of distress like floods and cyclones?” But it’s not just for them that Muthulakshmi has been spreading awareness about eco-friendly pads. “Earlier, our grandmothers and ancestors used cloth for pads and there were hardly any uterine problems like ovarian cysts, but today, women are so used to commercial pads and 1 out of 10 women experience uterine problems before they turn 40,” she says. With such reasons to keep her going in her mission, she visits shelters and villages to distribute biodegradable sanitary pads.
For a cleaner and safer future: M Muthulakshmi visits shelters and villages to distribute biodegradable sanitary pads (Pic: M Muthulakshmi)
Eco-friendly sanitary pads are made of layers of cloth and unlike commercial pads, no plastic or chemicals are used. The cloth pads can be washed and reused and even if incinerated, don’t affect the environment. But while a pack of 30 commercial pads costs approximately ₹280, a single cloth pad costs an average of ₹140 — an amount that might be too large for these women to bear. So, Muthulakshmi decided that she would buy the pads and distribute them freely in underprivileged areas. Now, she does not have a team that can help her with organising the funds, buying the pads or distributing them. But as an auditor, we imagine that managing funds is no big deal for her and she has friends who help her by picking up the supplies from Namakkal. As for the distribution, Muthulakshmi prefers to go on her own as she feels the presence of a large group would threaten the people. “I don’t work with a team because people, especially those from villages, tend to feel that we might be using them for some sort of promotion or publicity,” she says.
As the pads are quite expensive even for her, Muthulakshmi collects contributions from volunteers and friends and makes sure that the women groups she helps receive the pads every month. Muthulakshmi's goodwill doesn't stop in just Tamil Nadu. Even during the Kerala floods last year, though she couldn’t go there, she sent the pads to the state and made sure they reached the women in distress. It looks like nothing, not even a calamity, can stop this auditor.