Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day, so no, I don’t mean the huge storm on Jupiter, light years away, that gives the planet its beautiful colour and wavy designs. I mean the once-a-month, for 45 years of a woman’s life great red spot. Period, crimson wave, red moon rising, leak week and another 5000 slang words and euphemisms we use to describe menstruation.
Over the last two years, I’ve become intensely aware of issues surrounding menstruation. Perhaps I should rephrase that, I’ve been forced to look at these issues because they’ve come too close to home. Literally. The Nursing School on our campus built a new school building, on the site that was the garbage dump. So the dump shifted to the next available free space. Right next to our house! So suddenly, 200+ girls in the hostel, houses, and not to mention the many many female patients and their relatives in a 200 bedded hospital were chucking all their waste into a gaping hole next door. Ouch!
Fortunately, M got into action. Clean paper and plastics are being collected and sold, and a sanitary pad incinerator was installed in the hostel. I breathed a tiny sign of relief. Except for the nagging thought that burning plastic pads surely could not be a viable solution? So, thanks to the great www and Google, I stumbled upon wonderful alternatives to the disposable plastic sanitary pads that are being offered ‘modern’ young women as a one-stop solution. And today seems the ideal time to share my favourite ones : Menstrual Cups and Cloth Reusable Pads. Enlightened souls who already use these, do spread the word. Everyone else, get comfortable under a Bodhi tree, and read on.
Menstrual Cups are bell-shaped and flexible, made of medical grade silicone and inserted into the vagina to catch menstural flow. Once the cup is full, you empty it, wash and re-insert. So a single cup lasts up to ten years! There are different sizes to choose from depending on your cycle and flow. The SheCup is made in India and costs about Rs1,000/- Menstrual cups are a fantastic product, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about them before. They were patented in the USA in 1937 by a midwifery group. Obviously they didn’t have as much capital to spend on advertising and packaging as the plastic pad makers. Incidentally, the plastic sanitary pad market share in India is worth thousands of crores of rupees.
The menstrual cup takes getting used to the first time, especially learning to insert and remove. But there are lots of great people who will help you along. Again my favourites : dirtydiaperlaundry and PSP. And once you pluck up your courage, get rid of your ick-factor and try it out, you’ll be hooked for life. I sure am! They have no health risks, no leaks if you wear it right, no landfills or mountains of waste, no burning, no dioxins. They are very comfy and you learn more about your body and your flow!! If you’re thinking about trying one out, watch a couple of videos and go for it girl!
And next, Reusable or washable cloth pads. Cloth is what you or your mom or your grandmom used. In the Stone Age. We modern women don’t want to use rags of cotton – unhygienic, inconvenient and unhealthy. But sto and think again, modern lady. The cloth pad has been re-invented in stylish, convenient, leakproof and ecofriendly ways. Check out EcoFemme and Goonj’s Not Just a Piece of Cloth, to name a few in India. They need to be soaked in cold water (not hot), gently washed and dried in the sun. Of which we have plenty all year round – we’re currently toasting in the 40s! Ecofemme’s foldable model, or what we call ‘rumal’ or handkerchief here is perfect for places where drying is not easy or in the monsoons. They are soft and comfy. The wings are great. And they are handmade by cooperative groups. They can last from 3-5 years. So you need about 6-7 pads to see you through a cycle. They cost between Rs150-300/- per pad. And there are various programme to get them in bulk or subsidies rates, for women who can’t afford it. We’re doing a pilot trial of Ecofemme pads on our campus and so far everyone loves them!!
So next time the Great Red Spot comes visiting, thank your stars coz your reproductive system is in good shape, and try on your cup or washable pad. Do it for your body, and for the body of the earth. Because we’re worth it!