The sanitary dialogue
Designers Pallavi Mohan and Neha Tulsian will roll out organic pads after a revolutionary packaging campaign, says Kritika Dua
With the ongoing dialogue over menstrual hygiene fuelled by movies like Pad Man and with talk of the need for mass-producing organic sanitary napkins, designer Pallavi Mohan has taken the lead in propagating the latter’s benefits through a campaign, the money from which she will use to roll out a line of bio-degradable, low-cost sanitary napkins. These will be distributed in the rural areas of Rajasthan and adjoining states. The proposed factory will employ local women to manufacture and distribute these items.
“In a country that has 1.3 billion citizens, 88 per cent women still don’t use sanitary napkins owing to lack of awareness, access and affordability. Most of these women have to rely on old rags, plastic, sand and ash to address their sanitation needs during their menstrual cycle. Menstruation, the most natural bio-physiological phenomenon in a woman’s life cycle, is still considered dirty and impure throughout India. The shame, the secrecy, lack of access to clean pads or toilet facilities further adds to the challenges and serious health implications,” says Mohan.
Mohan and partner Neha Tulsian are already carrying the debate forward by revolutionising the packaging of sanitary napkins. Their campaign is titled, “Don’t hide it, period,” for which Mohan has designed an exclusive T-shirt using hand sequins. “Every girl and woman should have access to proper menstruation hygiene. This is just a step closer to what we envision the world to be, where both women and men are aware and consider it as a crucial conversation they must have.”
For Tulsian, the idea to spark a conversation around periods stemmed from a series of personal experiences. “Everyone was shy to talk about periods, something I noticed while growing up. I was told not to go to the temple, wash my hair on the third day and so forth. Later I realised that these are just myths one shouldn’t pay heed to but sadly these can still be heard among the educated population. There are various ways to start the dialogue — posts and videos on social media, open letters, short films et al. Owning a design company, (NH1 design) I thought that it’s wise to address the problem right at the packaging level,” she says.
The packaging of normal sanitary napkins often comes with diversionary vibrant or floral motifs. But theirs are emblazoned with slogans and exclusively sold on an online portal. The duo hopes that these taglines will prompt the customers to destigmatise the issue and talk casually about it with friends and family.
Sanitary and hygiene issues are so overbearing that many young girls drop out from school as soon as they hit puberty. Many women from both rural as well as urban background suffer from reproductive tract infections (RTI) and cervical cancer due to poor menstrual hygiene. Gynaecologists believe that organic sanitary pads can act as a preventive measure.
The biggest barrier to adopting quality sanitary pads turns out to be affordability and accessibility. Catering to the need, this campaign will raise funds for the Better India and Akaar foundation to build a sanitary pad factory in Ajmer. The proposed factory will promote skill development by employing local women to manufacture and distribute bio-degradable, low-cost sanitary napkins. Thus, this factory might make things a little easier for them. Even bigger sanitaryware brands can open factories in rural areas under a CSR initiative so that the marginalised community can have access to it.
Myths associated with periods are prevalent even in urban society, according to Tulsian. She came across one such instance at a Diwali puja where a Nepalese girl from her office didn’t come out to help due to her menstrual cycle. Still, she encouraged her to participate in it. “We still don’t talk about periods due to shyness when it is the most natural phenomenon in a woman’s life. Advertisements still use blue fluid instead of red, a weak communication strategy. Also, most of the men are not comfortable talking about it or consider it dirty or gross.”
A video recently surfaced on social media where people working at various pharmacies were interviewed about the reason behind packing the sanitary napkins in a newspaper or black polybags. They replied that menstruation was meant to be kept under wraps. Some of them were clueless as they had become habitual about the drill.
“We all have to stand in solidarity to fight the taboos as it doesn’t only affect an individual but every woman,” says Tulsian who believes that Bollywood has a huge influence on society. “Movies like Pad Man will take the conversation around menstrual health to the masses, making them aware about this weighty issue.”
On a brighter note, a puberty ritual in South India demands a huge celebration when a girl reaches her sexual maturity. It’s an age-old tradition which is being followed for years now. Yet few are aware.
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