Guest blog from Anju Bist, Indian co-founder of Saukhyam Resusable Pads, to celebrate their work, and Anju's response to Covid-19 challenges:
The Saukhyam journey started with a quest to find a hygienic and affordable way for rural women in India to handle menstruation with dignity. When Embracing the World launched the Amrita SeRVe Self-Reliant Village project, our volunteers fanned out into the field and began listening to villagers describe the challenges they were facing. Along the way, we realized that instead of celebrating the power of womanhood, menstruation was being looked upon as a taboo subject – a source of shame and a topic to be avoided.
Reusable menstrual pads are becoming more and more mainstream. These have no chemicals and toxins, they are far cheaper than disposable products and they create no waste. It is encouraging indeed to see women and girls making the shift in large numbers.
Enviromenstrual Week is observed every year in the UK during October. An initiative of the Women’s Environmental Network that began in 2018, this annual happening brings our attention to the harm that disposable menstrual products are causing to our planet. Not only are resources extracted and trees felled to make such products, but also the enormous amount of non-biodegradable waste that is generated causes untold harm to our seas and our soils. Saukhyam Reusable Pads are made from cotton cloth and banana fibre.
In early October last year, we were privileged to launch Saukhyam Reusable Pads in the UK and express our solidarity with this annual event. More than 10,000 women and girls have made the shift, eliminating 875 tons of non-biodegradable menstrual waste. This is also helping prevent the emission of 40.6 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. Last year, when Women for India and the Social Founder Network recognized us for the "exceptional impact, clarity and growth of work dedicated to furthering the UN SDGs", the pandemic had not yet hit India. We traveled to New Delhi to receive the award.
About two weeks later, when the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown was announced all over India, we had to shut our production centers and halt online sales. Amazingly our online sales resumed after about three weeks. Gradually some of the production centres re-opened as well. Soon, our women were busier than ever making reusable pads.
During the past year, we have actually seen the demand for reusables soar. Maybe because many women and girls are working and attending classes from home. Maybe because many of us are finally beginning to understand the harm that disposables cause to the planet and how our individual actions can have an impact.
An average woman, over the course of her menstruating lifetime, will use and throw away about 10,000-15,000 disposable pads. This is estimated to be equal to 40,000-60,000 plastic bags. We are all trying hard to give up plastic bags and use cloth bags instead, but what about all of the hidden plastic in our disposable sanitary pads?
Perhaps it is these kinds of frightening figures that are motivating women to shift. Saukhyam pads are available online not only in India and the UK but also in Germany and several other nations as well. In India, we are working hard to bring these pads to rural women. We take great pride in the fact that the same high-quality pad that is exported is also made available in remote and rural corners of our country. We have the help of a growing network of Saukhyam 'Vijayas' and Saukhyam 'Amritas' who conduct awareness workshops and make the pads available in their communities. When people buy online, it is individuals that are buying. But in rural areas, we observe that entire communities are motivated to make the shift. Over 50% of women and girls in India still do not have access to products for menstrual hygiene. This year, India finally notified standards for reusable pads.
Why Banana Fibre?
It is not widely know, but it is true: just like trees are cut to make paper, trees are also cut to make the absorbent material in 99% of disposable pads made and sold globally. Banana fibre is an excellent absorbent. It is also a type of cellulose fibre. However, it is obtained from agricultural waste; no trees are cut to extract the fibre. India is the largest producer of bananas in the entire world. This fruit tree has a unique property - it fruits only once. After the fruit is obtained in 8-9 months, the tree is cut for it will never bear fruit again. There are a few groups in the world now making disposable pads from banana fiber. However, Amma, our spiritual leader, guided the team to make reusable pads with banana fibre as the absorbent. "Even though banana fibre comes from waste, one must understand that it is too precious to be used just once and thrown away," Amma said.
We felt that Amma was teaching us the basic principles of sustainability. Nothing disposable, in the long run, can ever be sustainable. Our Saukhyam pads can be washed either by hand or in the washing machine.
Our ardent desire is that every woman and girl worldwide knows about and has access to reusable menstrual products. This alone will go a long way in helping our planet heal.
This year, during Earth Day 2021, we renew our commitment to the cause. We thank the Social Founder Network for its strong support in our journey to make reusables mainstream. Do check out the Saukhyam website at https://www.saukhyampads.org/and share with family members and friends.
Do join us in our quest to make disposables known as the old fashioned choice that they really are.
Anju Bist, author of this blog, is founding Managing Director, Saukhyam Reusable Pads, a non-profit guided and inspired by Amma, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, who is revered worldwide as a spiritual and humanitarian leader. To know more, please visit Saukhyampads.org. Anju was awarded Social Entrepreneur of the Year during International Women’s Day in March 2020 by the Social Founder Network.
Watch this wonderful short film where Prachi Shevgaonkar, Founder of Cool the Globe app, talks about how - and why - she switched to using Saukhyam Reusable Pads. "This video is for men as well as women!" urges Prachi below, so no excuses guys!
Remember to add your comments below - about Anju's successful management and rapid growth of Saukhyam Reusable Pads, including during Covid-19 lockdown, and Prachi's own story about how she realised the importance of changing to reusables, and then went on to found Cool the Globe.
#EarthDay #reusables #SDGs #sustainability #innovation