Haryana's 'Pad Woman' is Putting a Full Stop on Period Poverty, One Napkin at a Time

Haryana's 'Pad Woman' is Putting a Full Stop on Period Poverty, One Napkin at a Time

With only 1 in 6 women using pads in India, around 150,000 tons of pad waste is generated per year.


S Usha Singh

Sanitation, menstruation and menstrual products continue to dominate the narrative of women's hygiene.

On an average, women use around 10,000 sanitary napkins in their lifetime. Conventional pads contain up to 90 per cent plastic and remain intact in the landfill for around 600-800 years after disposal. Most pads contain around 3.5g of petrochemical plastic with every sanitary pad releasing around 21 grams of carbon dioxide in the process. With only 1 in 6 women using pads in India, around 150,000 tons of pad waste is generated per year.

Panchkula ‘Pad Woman’ Renu Mathur, meanwhile, has has for some time now been vouching for homemade pads. She argues against the safety of commercial pads, largely made of synthetics-like rayon and SAPs (Super Absorbent Polymers). SAPs are made from polymers that are derived from crude oil and could cause health irregularities in women who regularly use products containing them.

“Most sanitary napkins, tampons contain fragrances, are dyed using chlorine and contain plastics - all of which are irritants and not breathable, leading to cancer and other vulnerable diseases,” said Renu.

For the past four years, Renu Mathur, a renowned social activist and reformer, has been advocating the use of reusable sanitary pads for a healthier life and a cleaner environment.

Being the daughter of medical professionals, she witnessed pain first-hand at a very tender age which made her empathetic towards the suffering of females. Back in 2016, she designed a prototype for handmade sanitary pad with used fabric. However, Renu said the manner in which cloth is used, is often the line between hygiene and the lack of it.

“We’re going back to traditional and natural materials, in a way going back to the roots only to push forward,” said Renu.

Working with underprivileged women who are at a level with no access to technology or money, Renu teaches them to recycle old fabric in a hygienic way so that they can make biodegradable reusable sanitary pads at their homes, from used, washed and dried fabric.

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Advocating women’s health in slum areas

She says, “We visit the extreme underprivileged strata, to teach them to make pads according to their needs. Our aim is to not make them dependent on anyone to come and give them pads, but to teach them to make pads themselves instead.”

Renu believes that besides being hygienic, a cotton cloth pad is safe for the environment too.

Elaborating on the health issues, she says, “When women switched to commercial pads, they were not changing the pads as frequently as they should. Because of the claims of most companies that it can be used day-long, women end up not changing the pad for 12-15 hours. This causes lots of health issues like vaginal fungal infection.”

Renu has trained a bunch of teenagers, who keep visiting slum areas and spearheading the campaign ‘make use of homemade sanitary pads’ among the underprivileged girls and women.

“I am happy to be part of this campaign, and ensure to visit one or the other slum areas often and enlighten them on the same.” said Satnam Kaur, a volunteer.

I learnt technique of making pads, which I am happy using it and advising the same in my area.” said Afsana, a local resident.

Going forward, Renu wishes to form self-help women’s group in slums wherein these women will make pads, earn a living and even provide eco-friendly cloth pads to more and more rural women.

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“We are not interested in setting up a factory or earning money out of this. Instead, we want to empower women to customize these pads according to their body's need. We request people to donate waste cotton cloths to us so that it can be used for making homemade pads in order to provide a cost-free hygienic life to underprivileged women who cannot access or afford high-priced sanitary napkins," she added.

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