Low-cost Bio-degradable Sanitary Pads to Reach Rural Women in India: Exclusive Interview With Aakar Foundation

Low-cost Bio-degradable Sanitary Pads to Reach Rural Women in India: Exclusive Interview With Aakar Foundation

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Highlights:
  • In India, 88% women don't use sanitary napkins due to lack of awareness, access and affordability
  • The Better India and Aakar Foundation is setting up a sanitary pad factory in Ajmer, Rajasthan, to manufacture and distribute bio-degradable, low-cost sanitary napkins
  • These low-cost, bio-degradable sanitary napkins help improve women's health and well-being.
Menstrual hygiene management is still a taboo in India. Millions of women across the country still face significant barriers to a dignified experience with menstrual hygiene. A majority of rural women use clothes, sand, ash and rags for feminine hygiene. Lack of awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene and lack of access to clean pads and toilet facilities affect Indian women disproportionately. 
Low-cost Bio-degradable Sanitary Pads to Reach Rural Women in India: Exclusive Interview With Aakar Foundation

In an exclusive interview with Medindia, Aakar Foundation shared about the importance of menstrual hygiene and the manufacture and distribution of low-cost bio-degradable sanitary napkins to end the age-old menstruation taboo.

 Q: Can you share with our Medindia's readers some of the statistics from your survey on poor menstrual hygiene among Indian women that prompted this venture to manufacture low-cost, bio-degradable sanitary pads?

Ans: Menstruation, the most natural bio-physiological phenomenon in a woman's life cycle, is brushed under the carpet as dirty and impure throughout India. Women hesitate to discuss the topic and hence menstrual hygiene is poorly managed. With little or no access to clean pads or toilet facilities most women in India are left helpless to deal with those 'difficult days' of the month.

The implications are deeper and more pervasive than any statistic can attempt to portray.

Issues such as lack of awareness, lack of access, and affordability force approximately 300 million women to rely on old rags, plastic, sand, and ash to address their sanitation needs during their menstrual cycle.

Reproductive Tract Infections are 70% more likely in women who use unhygienic materials during their periods.

Some of the most detrimental implications of the current menstrual hygiene state in India affect both education and livelihood. In India, adolescent girls (age 12-19) miss five school days in a month due to menstruation.

Around 23% of these girls actually drop out of school after they begin menstruating. This hinders one quarter of the next generation of India's female population from pursuing higher education. Similarly, women in India are forced to miss roughly four working days a month resulting in forty-eight days of lost income in a single year. The ramifications of this loss manifest themselves in everything from food availability to health and the larger space of women empowerment.

Q: How can these pads help with solid waste management? How do you plan on educating users on safe disposal of sanitary pads?

Ans: India is evidently facing a serious crisis. Sanitary waste disposal is not merely a waste management issue; it's a health and human rights issue that affects the entire country. As there is currently no standardized method of sustainable sanitary waste disposal, every menstrual product disposed contributes to either soil, air or water contamination. Any soiled sanitary products are a breeding ground for infections and diseases. Stagnant menstrual blood accumulates bacteria such as Escherichia coli, or E coli, which multiplies at an alarming rate.

Most women in big cities use commercial disposable sanitary napkins, not knowing that some of these products pose health hazards due to its chemical cocktail content.

The advent of plastics brought in the good and the bad. SAP and polyethylene used for back cover of pads make the pads waterproof. The top sheet is kept dry with polypropylene. Modern sanitary pads are made almost entirely using plastic material, with inferior plastic material making it worse.

According to a report, it is estimated, a potential of 9000 tonnes of sanitary waste (432 million pads) is being generated annually in India. Furthermore, more than 80 percent of this waste is either flushed down the toilet or end up dumped in a landfill.

Our pads "Anandi" are India's first ~100% compostable (patent no.3129/MUM/2015) and disposable pad. We are also presently perfecting our technology to produce raw materials from indigenous agri-wastes and plant material like banana fibre, water hyacinth and jute pulp. The use of sterilized, disposable sanitary napkins, such as Anandi, prevents infections, illnesses, spread of diseases such as cervical cancer, and labor complications, all of which claim thousands of lives each year.

Given the right composting environment conditions, Anandi can fully compost within 180 days. We do not use any chemicals, plastic, SAP or gel in our napkins as compared to all other leading brands in India, which all claim to be bio-degradable. Anandi Pads follow American Compost Council & European Compost Council standards.

Q: Given the large size of the Indian population, do you plan on setting up more low-cost sanitary pad manufacturing units in other states in India?

Ans: Our model is currently to set up the Aakar Mini factories at rural and semi urban areas where women are trained to make these low-cost napkins to be sold in their communities where there is lack of both accessibility and affordability while also generating livelihood for rural women.

Aakar Innovations enables women and SHGs to produce affordable and high quality sanitary napkins, using its proprietary technology, which is then sold locally through its unit Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE) distribution model.

Q: How do you plan to sell these in retail so that more number of underprivileged women avails of its benefits?

Ans: Aakar already makes affordable ~100% compostable and biodegradable pads- priced at Rs. 40/28 for 8 napkins. We are also planning to launch in the urban market in stores & online stores in 3 months.

Currently, our product can be brought by placing an order via email and pads are available in all our production units across 14 states in India & 5 Countries in Africa. Anyone can buy our pads.

Q: These low-cost sanitary napkins are sold on Nykaa.com. How will it reach the target group who may not be aware of these beauty apps?

Ans: This is a limited edition campaign aimed to raise funds. We have been working on zero budgets when it comes to marketing. Social Media influencers from various backgrounds are helping us amplify our message. Vogue, Elle, Your Story, Homegrown, Vagabomb, Creative Gaga have all joined hands with us and featured our product. Economic Times mentioned about our campaign in one of their articles. The timing with #padmanchallenge worked in our favor. We had our inbox flooded with messages from people who wanted to support us.

Q: What is your opinion on 12% GST on sanitary napkins?

Ans: Neha Tulsian of NH1 design says, 'Being a woman myself, I do not agree that female hygiene products should be free. They should be cheaper. Not free. Taxes on sanitary napkins do not sound like a good idea at all.'

Source: Medindia

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