New Delhi: The Kerala gram panchayat of Muhamma is set to become the first Indian panchayat to be entirely free of synthetic sanitary napkins, reports have said.
The Hindu has reported that the panchayat, in Alappuzha district, is part of a project to contain menstrual waste in which it is being aided by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation. It is funded by the Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of ISRO.
Women were given reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups by the panchayat administration as part of the initiative launched by food and civil supplies minister P. Thilothaman.
Times of India has reported that the panchayat will charge a nominal fee for providing four cloth pads and one cup to each woman.
Both newspapers have quoted local authorities as having said that the local body has been generating menstrual waste of more than a lakh sanitary pads in a month, affecting soil and water.
As many as 750 synthetic sanitary napkins in the panchayat can reportedly be put out of use if they are replaced with cloth napkins (which have a shelf life of three to four years) and menstrual cups, which last for five or more years.
A major critique of the government’s focus on menstrual hygiene had been the singular dependence on synthetic sanitary pads. This is one of the first instances where an administration has focused on sustainable alternatives.
Cloth pads and menstrual cups are not without health risks if not properly used – a fact highlighted in Tanya Mahajan and Arundati Muralidharan’s August 2019 report for The Wire. The authors’ also focus on fighting taboo when they write:
“…deeper research and exploration is required to understand its acceptability across different contexts, especially given that taboos related to vaginal insertion and an uninformed linkage with virginity in several low and middle-income countries, persist.”