Tribal women in Chhattisgarh's Surguja district are churning out thousands of sanitary pads every month, earning money and helping girls go back to school.
A sanitary napkin revolution of sorts is underway in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, busting myths and removing taboos attached to menstruation, and empowering rural women to take ownership of their bodies.
For decades, poverty and ignorance have deprived rural women in India of basic dignity. In the absence of awareness about personal hygiene and access to sanitary napkins, most rural women struggle through their monthly period. Often, girls are forced to quit school when they attain puberty for want of sanitary pads!
Not in Surguja, though, where tribal women use four special machines to churn out thousands of low-priced sanitary pads every month. Operating for 8-10 hours every day, each machine can provide a hygienic menstrual management option for 5,000 women each month.
At present, 15 women are involved in manufacturing sanitary pads, which are delivered to anganwadis, government schools and women’s hostels for sale in over 400 villages of Surguja
“Initially, tribal women were reluctant to be part of the initiative due to the social stigma attached to the very word menstruation. But, with our team campaigning in the villages talking about menstruation and the cost-effective sanitary pads, they quickly came on board,” says Anchal Ojha, president of the SSG.
“With the help of Ritu Sen and the SSG, we got a loan and land to start a mini-factory with four machines,” says former KSHG president Anita Yadav.
Sen helped the KSHG get a Rs 6.5 lakh loan from the Central Bank of India, of which Rs 4.5 lakh was invested in the machines, sourced from Mumbai-based Aakar Innovations.
The land and loan issues settled, a batch of tribal women was sent to Mumbai on an all-expenses paid trip by the district administration for training. “We underwent a week’s training in making sanitary pads at Aakar Innovations,” says KSHG president Sushma Toppo. “After returning, we trained other women and girls.”
At present, 15 KSHG women are involved in manufacturing sanitary pads, which are delivered to anganwadis, government schools and women’s hostels for sale in over 400 villages of Surguja.
According to a report in a local (Hindi) newspaper, of the 68 lakh women in Surguja, 61 lakh have suffered from infections caused due to unhygienic methods adopted during menstruation.
The sanitary pad project is helping women improve their health on one hand, and enabling a better future for them by allowing them to continue with their studies even after puberty.
The sanitary pad project is helping women improve their health on one hand, and enabling a better future for them by allowing them to continue with their studies even after puberty
“How can the problem be solved overnight when it took more than 70 years (since Independence) to open up and speak on the issue?” —Arunachalam Muruganathan, ‘Sanitary Man’ of India