Overcoming taboos, fostering enterprise
By Scharada Bail
“I liked the heterogeneity of this workshop. Rural-urban, male-female, so many categories and divisions were bridged. I also liked the fact that we men were included in a workshop to discuss menstruation and women’s health. It brought home to me how much responsibility we need to take even in our male roles.” – Kailash Naskar, from Jharkhand.
“I was nervous at first – how will we learn or discuss anything in this area among mixed peers? But the instruction we received here was really very good in removing such inhibitions and increasing confidence. The manufacturing process was also explained in great detail.” – Pinky Talukdar, from Assam.
“I will introduce this sanitary napkin project with at least 5 self-help-groups in our area as part of their Income Generating Programmes.” – R.V. Lenin, from Tamil Nadu.
UNICEF conducted the second Workshop on Menstrual Hygiene and Sanitary Napkin Production, in Chennai from February 26 to 28, 2007 in association with the Cheema Foundation.
Sanitary napkin usage has traditionally been low, or almost non-existent amongst rural women, and the subject of menstruation is still taboo in large sections of Indian society that assigns importance to concepts of ritual purity. This workshop addressed such issues even as it clearly set out the manufacturing process for sterile sanitary napkins at low costs, and the process for waste disposal of such napkins in the community setting.
By promoting the use of sanitary napkins, a direct impact can be expected on women’s health, as they are vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections with the traditional method of using cloth. In addition, by showing how such sanitary napkins could be manufactured by self-help-groups, the workshop was empowering participants from many different parts of the country, identifying a clear and feasible direction for their entrepreneurship.
Participants in the workshop were drawn from districts that UNICEF has identified in the states of Orissa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry where development does not reflect many of the existing government schemes such as the National Rural Health Mission.
Dr. R. Sujatha from Shree Cheema Foundation led the discussions on women’s health with help from Ms. Nidhi of UNICEF, who translated into Hindi. The manufacturing process was explained by Ms. Nagalakshmi, who has successfully led a SHG in Gerugambakkam, a hamlet near Chennai to undertake manufacturing and marketing of low cost sanitary napkins in the rural areas.
“The best part about the napkins we manufacture is that they are available in ones and twos, so women don’t have to spend extra money on a full pack of 10 every time they need less. Materials are also easily available. This is something that can be undertaken easily by many women,” says Ms. Nagalakshmi with great confidence.
From the way participants shared their experience on the concluding day, it was evident that she had been able to impart this confidence to a good number. The first such workshop has already resulted in some of the participants starting their own production units in their areas.