Freedom from Fear
When Sanitary Cloth Pads Reached the Villages
Reportage of how Saukhyam Reusable Cloth Pad was launched to the villages in January 2017.
First there were four tailors, and then in the next village four more joined. In the third village five ladies heard about the course and attended. As the word spreads, many more are expressing their interest in learning about sanitary cloth pad stitching.
Veena, from Kodur village in Telangana, recalls the first time she heard about stitching reusable sanitary napkins. “It was when Rupali, the Amrita SeRVe tailoring teacher, came here,” she says.
The Amrita SeRVe village coordinator had gathered together the tailors, who came prepared with sewing machines and needles, and most importantly, an enthusiastic attitude. These women were members of a Self Help Group (SHG) that had been given an order for hundreds of sanitary pads. Their goal was not only to generate income, but to spread an ecological awareness of the value of reusable sanitary pads. Already in the habit of sharing new tailoring ideas, they were eager to pass on the concept behind this environmentally friendly cloth pad, “Saukhyam.”
Seated in a circle, the tailors observed each step the Amrita SeRVe instructor, Rupali, demonstrated. After folding the new soft cotton fabric into two layers, she placed the model of a napkin on it and drew the lines for cutting. Veena recalls how the women mimicked each step Rupali demonstrated. By the time she had completed the first sanitary pad, they had gotten the idea and were ready to make their own.
Saukhyam, a Sanskrit word that means ‘happiness’ and ‘comfort’, was meticulously designed by an Amritapuri Ashram resident. Composed of two layers of soft cotton fabric with leak proof textile between, two flaps, or wings, can be buttoned closed. The absorbent part of the cloth is folded along the top edge of the wing. Then it is stitched carefully to guarantee a comfortable fit without rough edges. The model has been tested and adjusted according to feedback and is now ready to market. With practice, the tailors were able to complete the cloth pad in 20 minutes by machine along with the button stitching by hand.
In December 2016, before it reached the Amrita SeRVe villages, the Saukhyam cloth pad had already received the best innovation product award at the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) trade fair in Telangana.
Group Share: Sanitary Pads and Menstrual Issues
Discussion flows naturally while stitching. “Many people use disposable sanitary napkins, which create garbage, so this Saukhyam model is better for the earth,” says Sujata.
Veena remarks that cattle, which wander freely in the village, may eat the thrown away items, so these need to be burned. She reminds that burning plastic pollutes the air.
Sujata adds that this reusable sanitary pad saves money on yearly expense. For the cost of disposable napkins is much greater than used materials such as cotton bed sheets and broken umbrella cloth for leak proof material. “And this low cost can aid in the transition from disposable to reusable sanitary napkin,” she concludes.
“Society will change its mentality with an awareness of health benefits,” Veena says. All the tailoring women agree that women will start to use reusable sanitary pads when awareness on health, hygiene and proper usage is gained.
One aspect of an awareness session is personal hygiene: when and how to wash the used cloth pad and how to dry it in the sunlight to keep it clean and hygienic.
Another aspect of this session, especially for girls, is about going to school during menses rather than staying home and falling behind. With this awareness, girls can continue studying without skipping classes 3-5 days a month or ending their education altogether.
Throughout history, many customs have disallowed women from fully participating in life during menses. One woman explains that in her village a woman is not allowed to cook or handle the drinking water in some households. Another adds that women are not permitted to go to the temple or touch the deity statues during menses. In some places women are even required to stay in separate spaces.
When it comes to changing traditions on menstrual issues, however, there is always some resistance. Some elderly women have expressed their discontent about the sanitary pad stitching movement.
“But they don’t know about the modern plastic disposable napkins, which are causing such waste problems,” Sujata explains. For long before the advent of disposable napkins, cloth was used. Today the younger generation is adaptive when tradition faces the needs of modern times. However, while disposable plastic items, adopted from Western cultures, may offer convenience, they wreak havoc upon India’s land and waters.
It was time for an awareness session for the girls of Kodur village, who seemed genuinely interested. “How much does it cost?” one young woman wanted to know. “No cost at all when you use your own materials!” came the reply. “Then I want to learn to do it!” the girl concluded.
One year later
The group is going strong. One of the highlights of the year was that Amritasree Bhagyalakshmi JLG (SHG) from Kodur received an order from the nearby KGBC School in Dharur, Telangana. A total of 558 cloth pads were stitched and distributed to female students.
The reputation of Saukhyam reusable cloth pads along with menstrual health and hygiene awareness is gaining recognition around Kodur village. First year total 700 napkins were stitched for selling. Cloth pad orders from Hyderabad are being placed one after another. The aim is to empower the tailors so that they can take care of the whole process themselves from buying the fabrics to selling the product.
Mata Amritanandamayi Math and devotees are keenly supporting the cause. The next step is to arrange sponsorship for tailors to stitch pads for distribution to village school girls across Amrita SeRVe villages.
Amrita SeRVe continues its work on menstrual health and hygiene, providing awareness sessions by health workers and village coordinators and promoting the low cost, environmentally friendly Saukhyam cloth pad.
As for Rupali, from Telangana she went on to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal. This was followed by Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra on the next leg of her tour. On her third trip to Tamil Nadu, many women came for cloth pad stitching training. Finally, after instructing many tailoring teachers throughout Kerala, Rupali was able to pass the skill forward to rural settings, where there are many hands to receive it.
“As I continue my journey to teach in all of Amrita SeRVe villages, the most rewarding thing is to see new ideas emerging in the minds of the women and girls we meet,” says Rupali. “From personal hygiene to waste management, from grandmothers to granddaughters, women have fresh and positive perspectives. This surely means there is a chance for society as a whole to also soon have the same.”