Menstruation has long since been a taboo topic in India but thanks to an increasingly enlightened youth population, more and more conversations are happening all around the country with these youngsters taking on the mantle to spread awareness among the society. Sohan Pappu, an 18-year-old from Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh is one of them. The BBA student at Manipal Academy of Higher Education has taken it upon himself to educate the masses and also help out girls and women from the less privileged sections of the society.
Actively involved in helping people in need since he was in Class 9, Sohan started conducting campaigns for menstrual hygiene in school and other places.
“Me and my friends founded our NGO Our Youth Social Community in 2017 to help people like construction workers, marginalised people by providing food packets to them and later on we branched in a new direction with our campaign when we decided to spread awareness on menstruation and hygiene," Sohan says.
Initially, the members bought sanitary pads made by the popular brands from stores as part of their drive to distribute those to the girls and women in the poorer sections of the society. But Sohan soon realised that these store-bought napkins are causing more harm than good due to the materials used to make them- plastic, chemicals, wood pulp.
“Seeing this we decided to do something about it. So we stopped buying store-bought sanitary pads and decided to make them on our own because even the ones that are sold in stores and labelled ‘biodegradable’ are not so. We researched on the best kind of materials we can use to make biodegradable pads and came up with three main items- bamboo fibre, banana fibre pulp and cornstarch plastic.
For the three-layered sanitary pads, Sohan’s NGO uses bamboo fibres for the top one and for the middle layer is made up of banana pulp fibre. The third layer or the bottom layer is made of cornstarch plastic.
“All these are difficult to come by so we have to source them from places like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh but they are 100 percent biodegradable. All these items when discarded as waste, will degrade within 6-7 months," Sohan says.
Sohan rues the still prevalent practice of hushed up conversations around menstruation but is hopeful of changes happening gradually as more and more youngsters speak up. The production cost for each sanitary pad is around Rs 16-18 and the NGO, through the project Suraksha is planning to distribute 3.5 lakh pads per month, beginning August.
The sanitary pads, while aimed to help poor women are also open to be bought by any woman who wishes to switch over to biodegradable pads. Sohan says as the NGO is the sole body involved in procurement, manufacture and distribution, the entire process is not cheap. More details on the project can be checked out at OYSC website.
Availability of sanitary pads are very scarce, especially in the rural areas of the country due to financial conditions and with less awareness, girls and women often don’t have access to better menstrual hygienic condition. Looking at the larger picture here, access to menstrual hygiene is often directly related to gender equality. Lack of these facilities has always contributed to young girls dropping out of schools and continue to do so in many rural parts of India.