India – the country of 1.2 billion people, where approximately half of the population is women and 355 million of them are menstruating, 88% of these women and girls use homemade alternatives such as an old cloth, rags, hay, sand or ash as their sanitary pads during their menstrual cycle. This problem could be solved if this was just due to lack of limited resources, but it is also due to the lack of awareness about the available products and the social stigma attached to the sanitary napkins. When Pranav’s sister went through her menarche, her first reaction was, “I have cancer.” When a girl child experiences menarche and communicates it to the mother, mum’s first reaction decides a child’s lifelong mind-set about menstruation. Mothers and grandmothers are tied by the society and the society has tied the older generation with numerous taboos, for example, during menstruation, girls cannot visit temples, cook food, enter kitchen, play outside, sleep next to family members, etc. These change from states to states in India, but all the cultures restrict the mobility and agency of females. Many stop going to school after menarche. This has been correlated with a loss of confidence, frustration and even guilt. Maybe, these traditions and superstitions were relevant a thousand years ago when feasible solutions were not available. Therefore, our focus on this proposal is on two things: educating and breaking the social stigma regarding the menstruation cycle and providing a cheaper and sustainable alternative in two villages and schools in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Sanitary napkins are priced for the urban population, which makes it harder for the rural population to afford them. In some cases, women have to choose between buying milk for the family and sanitary pads. The choice for not buying sanitary pads in such a detrimental condition is obvious. For the families that are able to afford sanitary pads (only 12% of Indian women), waste disposal methods are lacking. Women end up throwing them in normal trash. This trash is then picked up by numerous impoverished people who look for precious items like wood, plastic, etc. in the garbage to sell. These are the people who suffer the most from such sanitary napkin decomposition and other waste disposals. In most places in India, there is an open drainage system. Many women chose to throw their pads in the drains. Overtime these accumulate and clog the drains, affecting the whole neighbourhood. With such a large population, a better waste disposal method is required. Also, when reaching out to women, we need to approach the mothers and grandmothers. Since the younger generation learn from their parents and elders, we need to focus on changing the psychology of the older generations first.
In India, women are already marginalised, especially in rural areas. Infant mortality rates of girls are 61% higher to that of boys. Menstruation is taboo and looked upon as ‘dirty.’ However, this can stop if women are aware of Menstrual Fluid Management Tools (MFMT). The goal is so they will not feel embarrassed to go to school or leave the house during their period and can live freely. Better access to MFMT is needed, not just for female health, but also to empower these women. In the past, men have needed reasons to oppress the performance of women, but soon in the 21st century this will change.
The menstrual cup (MC) is a bell-shaped flexible silicone cup that is placed into a vagina during menstruation. MC can hold 3 times more blood than that of a large tampon. Unlike traditional methods, MC collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. Using a menstrual cup over a tampon or sanitary napkin has numerous advantages. A menstrual cup need only be emptied every 10-12 hours, in comparison to 4-6 hours for pads. MC is anti-allergenic and can last up to 10 years. It is also supposed to be much more comfortable, in terms of exercise like swimming or cycling. The menstrual fluid can easily be poured out in the drains – a much safer and environmentally sustainable method of disposal rather than throwing sanitary pads into the drains.
All solutions come with cons. It takes a lot of practise to place the MC. If not placed correctly, the menstrual fluid might leak. But once mastered, it becomes extremely easy and comfortable. Using sanitary napkins for 1 week costs $1.50 and the cost of MC is $6. A one-time investment could last for 10 years. These details will be explained in the flyer that we produce for the rural women.
The pros of a menstrual cup definitely outweigh the cons. In a place like India with a humungous population, such sustainable methods need to be installed for long term cleanliness.
A popular Bollywood movie is releasing named “Pad man,” based on a true story of a person who invented a cheaper method of creating sanitary pads. In Indian history, This is the first time women are feeling comfortable to share their menstrual experiences. Therefore, in the spirit of the movie, this summer is the best time to install a revolutionary idea into some villages and school, as the population will be more accepting.
Pranav’s mum was a social worker. At the age of 50, she would ride her scooter 60 miles a day in extreme weather to visit remote villages to teach about family planning, female health and contraceptive methods. Inspired by this, we reached out to the same NGO that his mum was part of – Social Consultancy Services (SCS). SCS is owned by Pranav’s cousins and their vision is to empower the villages through education. As mentioned, they have taken initiatives in terms of family planning education but are lacking in the education of menstruation which is something they have been wanting to start for the past few years. Through Project for Peace, they are ready to take the idea of menstrual cups to rural areas and implement it to their normal village visits. We have also contacted the Silky cup brand for the menstrual cup and they will provide us with a 20% discount on the product if we buy in bulk for an order of 500; we will have to order one month in advance.
Abhishek, Cynthia and Pranav will have designed and created the posters and flyers prior to Pranav’s departure. Cynthia will create an instruction panel in English, and Abhishek in Hindi. SCS was waiting for this type of initiative with flyers and posters as a means to train their staff so they can start a program for rural areas after this project is finished. In the first two days, the team at SCS of four ladies and Pranav, along with his mum and aunt will meet to design the instruction. Pranav’s cousin from SCS will take the lead as this is her area of expertise – communicating with the rural population. We will stay in touch with Cynthia, as she is a MC user and can answer all questions about it. This group of 7 will always travel together, let it be to schools or villages.
Since we want the cup to be promoted not just in rural areas, but also in urban areas, we are going to take the initiative on both the scales. The three rural areas identified are Sultanpur, Maniyaon and Sarojini Nagar. These villages have a total women population of 300-500 each. We will organize different camps for different neighbourhoods. At each neighbourhood, we can have around 50 women, of which we can expect around 10 to be of menstruating age. Doing the calculations, we can sell 300 cups at 1/5th of the original cost ($1.25) along with a container in which MC can be washed and a soft water absorbent clothe that dries MC before placing it back. We plan to charge the women, so that they can value the product. This is still at the same price as the competition but for 10 years. These cups can be easily purchased with the amount budgeted for it.
For the urban areas, we will reach out to the teachers in schools. The three identified school are St. Thomas College, City Montessori School and Bal Nikunj Vidyalaya. We will first brief the teachers about the menstrual cup. Instead of introducing it to the students, we will introduce it to the parents and students together during the parents teacher meeting day. These dates have been coordinated with the schools and on those days, we will visit the school. On this day, the teachers along with us can provide broachers, flyers and instructions of menstrual cup and its benefits. This way, we will speak to the parents about these issues rather than just to the students and this will help us comfort the parents more. A tentative day-by-day plan is attached in the budget Excel Sheet.
As mentioned, MC is a remarkable product that can last 10 years – a product that empowers these women for the coming 10 years, where they do not have to worry about any additional cost. Once women start using it, they will soon realise the advantages of MC. Furthermore, since we will start a program for menstrual cup, SCS can start sending its employees to other remote villages throughout the year to spread awareness about a newer, better, environmentally friendly product.