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Time Square preparing for International Yoga Day celebrations

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In preparation for International Yoga Day on June 21, banners have been put up at the United Nations in New York
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In preparation for International Yoga Day on June 21, banners have been put up at the United Nations in New York
In preparation for International Yoga Day on June 21, banners have been put up at the United Nations in New York (IANS)

New York: As the world celebrates International Day of Yoga on Sunday in a unique event that is in many ways an endorsement of the Indian way of life, more than 30,000 people are expected to participate in a mass demonstration of the ancient art in the city’s Times Square, after global leaders and diplomats from around the world launch the observance at the UN headquarters.

Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon is to deliver the keynote address at the start of the day’s celebrations at the UN headquarters in an open plaza along the East River. India’s Permanent Representative, Asoke Kumar Mukerji, told reporters here Tuesday. General Assembly President, Sam Kutesa and External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj are slated to speak on the occasion along with representatives of some of the nations that co-sponsored the International Day of Yoga resolution.

Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, is to give a lecture on the benefits of yoga and lead a demonstration by several hundred people at the UN and, through a video link, the thousands on Times Square – which is known as “the crossroads of the world.”

The UN celebrations are to be webcast on the UN network, and also are supposed to be shown on the NASDAQ market building’s giant, seven storey-tall video screen, and also on Times Square.

“Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spirtual health and well-being,” Ban said in his message for International Day of Yoga. “It promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share.”

He said that he had tried out yoga by doing the tree pose or Vrksasana, and “appreciated the simple sense of satisfaction that yoga can bring.”

A manifestation of the universal value of “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” — the world is one family, the UN General Assembly resolution for International Day of Yoga was co-sponsored by 177 nations, and adopted by acclamation by the 193-member organisation, Mukerji said. This was the largest number of co-sponsors ever for such a resolution, he added.

The idea of an International Day of Yoga was proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the General Assembly last September, calling yoga “a holistic approach to health and well being” and to finding “the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

“Yoga embodies the unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; the harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

For yoga day to be observed starting this year, Mukerji said that the resolution for it had to be passed by the General Assembly before the end of last year but the calendar had already been set with no room for fresh items.

The Indian Mission found a way around this, by invoking the association Modi made between health and yoga, Mukerji said. They had the Yoga Day resolution introduced as part of the health agenda, that was already on the calendar for December, he said.

The Mission brought the full force of multilateral diplomacy to bear the project, he said. The Indian diplomats were able to have the 18-sponsors they initially had, which then snowball to reach a total of 177 co-sponsors. And when both the United States and China signed on, the effort gained momentum.

Asked by a reporter about the role of Muslim countries as co-sponsors, and the controversies raised in India by some Muslims, Mukerji said that yoga was presented as a health matter with no religious undertones, and he pointed out that 47 of the 56 members of the Muslim grouping, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, joined as co-sponsors. While Pakistan and Saudi Arabia did not co-sponsor, they did not object to the resolution either. (IANS)

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Alternative sanitary pads are here, but accessibility still an issue

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

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Accessibility of Sanitary Pads is still an issue. IANS

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.

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

But why do we need these alternatives?

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.

“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.

Also Read: Taxing Menstruation? GST Denies Sanitary Napkins as Essential Commodity

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.

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.

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

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. 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.

A better alternative for plastic sanitary pads.
Sanitary napkins being made from banana fibre.

“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