Monday August 26, 2019

Accessibility of Alternative Sanitary Pads Still An Issue

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feminine
Sanitary napkins being made from banana fibre. (Representational image).

Awareness about the harm easily-accessible, plastic-based sanitary napkins have been causing to both health and the environment is spreading — but slowly. And helping the cause of better menstrual hygiene, many sanitary pad makers, NGOs and indigenous brands are turning towards natural products to produce sustainable pads.

Organic cotton, banana or jute fibre — and even old clothes — are now among the alternatives on offer to the sanitary pads sold by the MNCs in India.

But why do we need these alternatives?

Non biodegradable sanitary pads.
Plastic sanitary pads do not decompose easily.

According to reports, every plastic-based sanitary pad has non-biodegradable content which takes around 500-800 years to decompose. Apart from the threat to the environment, medical experts have also voiced concern over possible pelvic infection due to repeated use of these easily-available plastic pads.

One of the companies providing an alternative is Ahmedabad-based Saathi, which was started in 2015 by graduates from MIT, Harvard and Nirma.

“We realised that there was a need for an alternative, and urban women were looking for different products because they were becoming aware of the consequences of plastic-based pads. The idea of using banana fibre came up and we decided to make sanitary pads based on it,” Saathi co-founder Kristin Kagetsu told IANS.

Banana fibre comes from the stem of the banana tree, which, after harvesting, is normally discarded. Saathi buys the stems from collectives of local farmers.

Also Read: NGO ‘Saathi’ aims to deliver 1 Million biodegradable Banana-fibre Sanitary Pads in rural Jharkhand

“After being disposed, Saathi’s pads degrade within six months, which is 1,200 times faster than the MNC pads. Since our products are made of natural materials, Saathi pads provide an experience free of rashes and irritation,” Kagetsu added.

It was not an easy ride for the founders of Saathi. Tarun Bothra, another co-founder, said apart from breaking the taboos associated with menstruation, another major challenge for them was to convince banana farmers to sell them the fibre for making pads.

“Periods are something that farmers associate with being ‘impure’. So convincing them that it was better to use the banana fibre for the pads than letting it go as a waste was difficult, but we succeeded,” he noted.

Another sanitary pad maker, EcoFemme, based in Auroville, is also in the business of making eco-friendly menstrual products — they make cloth-based pads using organic cotton.

“Our target is women aged 18-35. Our products are sold in rural areas through our ‘Pads for Sisters’ programme which offers women the opportunity to buy the pads at a reduced price. The response is good, once there has been a conversation around the benefits,” said Laura O’Connell from EcoFemme.

It’s not just producing the pads; the makers have also taken up the responsibility of creating awareness about menstrual hygiene amongst women, especially in rural areas.

An alternative for plastic sanitary pads.
Making of better sanitary pads in process.

Anshu Gupta’s Not Just Piece of Cloth (NJPC) was among the first to turn clothes into pads. For over a decade now, ‘MyPad’ has been selling its products in rural areas where there is little access to sanitary pads, and even in cities.

“In earlier times, clothes were used. But it was portrayed that clothes were unhygienic. Yes, they are, if not cleaned properly. We at Goonj first thoroughly clean the clothes, make them hygienic, make the pads and the distribute them among women, especially in rural areas,” Meenakshi Gupta from NJPC told IANS.

She revealed that the idea of making cloth pads came when Goonj, an NGO, found that in rural areas, or even slums of urban cities, women use clothes during menstruation.

“It is better to use hygienic clothes than nothing. Women in rural areas lack the knowledge that if used in a hygienic way then clothes are equally good. We don’t aim to make profits, rather make women aware about periods. We have observed quite a change (in attitudes),” she added.

When will such products make it to every household?

Although Saathi has collaborated with local NGOs to reach out to rural women, its co-founder Bothra — also the company’s CTO — believes that the wider use of alternative sanitary pads is going to take some time in India.

“Frankly speaking, in rural areas women don’t even have an idea about sanitary pads; so knowing about the existence of biodegradable sanitary napkins or organic pads or even hygienic clothes is very rare,” Bothra, whose products are available on e-commerce platforms, explained.

He further noted that since the MNC-produced pads are easily available at low cost, women don’t show much interest in investing money on the alternatives.

“Price is often a factor for women when it comes to the purchase of biodegradable or organic pads. When one is getting the plastic-based sanitary pads at a lower rate, they don’t like to shell out extra ,” Bothra noted.

Also Read: Providing free Sanitary products and Puberty lessons to Girls may boost up their Attendance Levels in Schools

O’Connell said that though their products have a higher up-front cost, the pads can be used for three to four months — which saves money over time.

“Our ‘Pads for Sister’ programme aims to make our pads affordable to women who would otherwise not be able to afford them; and our ‘Pad for Pad’ programme provides our pads to school girls for free,” she added.

The alternatives are slowly treading the path to being accessible to all, and their makers are optimistic about the future.

“There is a growing awareness, but there is a lot of work to do to make reusable options more widely known. We believe in informed choices; so we hope that more people in all areas of India, not just rural, will become aware of sustainable options and make a decision based on the fact that reusable products are better for health, the planet and our wallets,” O’Connell commented.  IANS

Next Story

India Needs to Define Special Placement of Function of Intelligence in Interest of National Security

The Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy, in February last, by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammad, was a case more of inadequate response

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India, Intelligence, National Security
Terrorists would always have a lead in springing up surprises -- it has to be appreciated, therefore, that the agencies using both human and technical means have produced information to preempt them in most cases. Pixabay

It is a matter of deep satisfaction for the people of India that our Intelligence agencies moulded in a non-political work ethos and practising the dictum of ‘working with urgency even when there was no emergency’ enabled the first Modi regime to successfully deal with the threats to national security — particularly in Kashmir where they helped the security forces to pursue Intelligence-based operations that guaranteed minimal collateral damage in counter-terror work. Terrorists would always have a lead in springing up surprises — it has to be appreciated, therefore, that the agencies using both human and technical means have produced information to preempt them in most cases.

The Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy, in February last, by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammad, was a case more of inadequate response than Intelligence failure. In security, failure of ‘action’ not of ‘information’ does happen often enough to remind us of the need to improve coordinated responses to Intelligence alerts and to never be dismissive about information. No Intelligence is ‘non-actionable’ as it should rightly be presumed to be the tip of the iceberg warranting all possible preventive measures, howsoever tedious these might seem to be for the action takers.

Most of the serious threats to national security have external and internal dimensions and the Multi Agency Centres at Delhi and in the state capitals with years of functioning now, make sure that the available actionable information is passed on to the concerned functionaries without delay and that further lines of pursuit to dig out more intelligence were specified as an ongoing task. Our Inteligence agencies — inheriting a British tradition — exercise the sovereign power of identifying the emerging threats to national security and initiating the effort to ‘cover’ them to ensure a constant flow of information on them without waiting for a clearance from the political executive. They have to keep the latter fully informed at the same time. This is what enables the agencies to go on without change of pace even when a new government assumes charge at the Centre after a General Election.

The system in India has upheld the position that national security was above politics and this principle was in play for most times since India became a democratic republic in 1950 — except for spells when the Intelligence chief of the day himself fell short of the highest levels of objectivity and independence. The natural changes brought about by the country’s democratic process enabled me to serve as Director Intelligence Bureau with three Prime Ministers of different political backgrounds — Congress, BJP and the United Front. Since the institution of National Security Advisor did not exist then, that function was also built into the DIB’s working in my time. I can say with emphasis that all the three valued IB’s information on national security even when they chose to run their politics in their own ways – by and large without involving Intelligence agencies in their political agenda.

India, Intelligence, National Security
It is a matter of deep satisfaction for the people of India that our Intelligence agencies moulded in a non-political work ethos and practising the dictum of ‘working with urgency even when there was no emergency’ enabled the first Modi regime to successfully deal with the threats. Pixabay

Because of the ever enlarging threat scenario, Intelligence agencies were in need of more manpower, funds and logistical support. As a historical legacy Intelligence Bureau was manned and led by officers of IPS — this made for the agency’s close cooperation with and a much-needed mentoring role in regard to the state police organisations. The Bureau was regarded as a Central Police Organisation for cadre management but was not otherwise bracketed with the investigation outfits or the para military organisations of the government. Intelligence agencies have a bulk of operators directly recruited from amongst the best through a rigorous examination and thoroughly trained in the trade craft.

The IPS officers leading them are on a turf of anonymity, covert operations and delicate information gathering — entirely different from the sphere of visible legal action handled by men in uniform including investigators. The Intelligence set-up, therefore, ought to have its own performance and promotion parameters. This is what gave Director IB the status and pay grade as the most senior police officer in the country in keeping with his function as the Chairman of the DGPs Conference even when IPS officers with longer years of service headed the state police or other police organisations at the Centre.

Intelligence agencies in Indian conditions handle only ‘information’ accessed through trade craft techniques and the responsibility of taking ‘action’ against a suspect in a legally empowered way would fall on the state police or a central investigation body like the NIA. The Intelligence agencies act as the eyes and ears of the sovereign power ruling the democratic state and could be scanning any other functionary — high or low — in the national interest under the express authorisation of the highest political executive exercising that power. Since Intelligence agency does not dictate ‘action’ or ‘policy’ it cannot be blamed for any legally untenable response of the police. The Centre needs to define the special placement of the function of Intelligence in the interest of national security.

The internal security situation in the country and the developing threat scenario around the world justify a quantum jump being made in the manpower and resources provided to the Intelligence set-up in general and Intelligence Bureau — the mother agency for counter intelligence work — in particular. IB watches every nook and corner of the country where terror agents and other anti-national elements might be harbouring taking advantage of the free society offered by Indian democracy. Kashmir, typically, illustrated the challenge to national security created by the paucity of ‘Intelligence from below’. Now that the J& K has been fully integrated with the rest of the country the Centre must raise enough trained professionals of the state to cover every Panchayat circle and town from the angle of counter terror watch. Failure to quickly identify the local masterminds behind the organised stone pelting was a major reason why the J&K government could not effectively handle the civic disturbances occurring in Srinagar and elsewhere in recent months. The collusion of the Valley parties ruling the state with the pro-Pak Hurriyat was the principal reason why the state administration remained infested with separatists and failed to work for the development and uplift of the average Kashmiri.

Also Read- Pakistan’s Imran Khan Government Bans Creation of New Posts, Purchase of All Vehicles

A hard-pressed organisation like IB should have no ‘vacancies’ caused by procedural delays arising out of the issue of equivalence of batch positions of IPS officers serving elsewhere. An officer is inducted and kept in IB purely on a special evaluation of merit and suitability and a faster career graph for him or her during the stay with the agency should be a part of the deal. IB, in any case, was expected to be ahead of the state cadres in matters of promotion. National security is the joint preserve of the Centre and the states. Cadre management complexities should not, therefore, be allowed to come in the way of central Intelligence agencies getting the best of the available manpower at any point of time. The new global terror targeting the Indian subcontinent adds urgency to this requirement. (IANS)