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Reusable sanitary pads revolution in J&K by Self Help Groups of UMEED Scheme

Regressive norms and beliefs surround the topic of menstruation even in 2021 in several rural households but a few definitely talk about it openly and also want to change the situation for their girls. Majority of young women and adolescent girls fail to adopt proper menstrual hygiene due to lack of knowledge or unavailability of sanitary napkins. The highly advertised disposable sanitary pads retail at high prices which cannot be afforded by rural people so they prefer washable cloths that are eco-friendly but unhygienic.

To counter this problem, State Rural Livelihood Mission has set up a low-cost sanitary napkin making unit in Bhalwal block of district Jammu in which women from Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are making eco-friendly sanitary pads with the aim to ensure menstrual hygiene in rural areas. Since, 70% of the reproductive diseases in India are caused due to poor menstrual hygiene, it can also affect maternal mortality so choosing healthy options can help lowering maternal mortality rates.

As per the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), a change  has been witnessed in the percentage of women using hygienic methods of protection during menstrual period. Around 69.6% of rural women use hygienic methods in Jammu and Kashmir when compared to 85.8% of their urban counterparts. The total percentage has changed from 66.6% to 73.4% as per NFHS-5.

In January 2021, Sheetal Nanda , IAS Secretary to Government Department of Rural Development & Panchayat Raj had launched reusable sanitary pads made by SHG members of JKRLM UMEED.

Jammu Links News interacted with Block Programme Officer Bhalwal Sonal Sharma regarding the product and breaking the taboo around menstruation.

She said, “These rash-free, reusable and eco-friendly sanitary pads are made up of natural ingredients like banana fibre etc. and provide a great alternative to regular disposable sanitary napkins. These reusable pads can help women to discard traditional unhygienic clothes used by them."

She added, “We have around 7 to 10 women involved in sanitary making units and they make around 4-5 packs of reusable pads in a day which are priced from Rs 280 to Rs 350 per unit. A unit contains around 5 pads. These reusable pads can be washed, dried and used for almost five years. As menstrual taboos are deeply ingrained in our cultures and beliefs, we try to run awareness campaigns in collaboration with different departments to normalise discussion around this topic.”

Around seven to ten SHGs members were trained by a pad making facility for a week in March 2020 and since then, these women have found a new career of social entrepreneurship. These reusable pads are being made on pilot basis by Shakti, a Cluster Level Federation (CLF) of Bhalwal block of Jammu district, from cloth and banana fibre, are environment and health friendly so one can opt for them.

Since regular disposable sanitary napkins contribute to plastic waste and pose a threat to the environment, these eco-friendly and hygienic pads can help to combat such challenges. Besides, it also provides employment opportunities to rural women.

This pilot project run by the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj is not only promoting menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls and women but also pulling these women out of poverty. These women are a part of the remarkable sanitary pads revolution of Jammu and Kashmir

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Hardeep Bali