Women across all age-groups have started using washable sanitary napkins.
Women of ATK Nagar of Uppiliyakudi panchayat, which has been single-use pad-free for over a year, celebrated being “free from pain” on Menstrual Hygiene Day on Thursday.
Over 135 women, both young and old gathered to discuss how using cloth pads, distributed by Gramalaya, a Tiruchi-based NGO working on sanitation and hygiene has changed their lives for the better.
On a scorching day in ATK Nagar in Kunnandarkoil Block in Pudukottai district, women gathered under a large tree to discuss how construction of toilets and distribution of ‘Feel Free’ brand of washable sanitary napkins has helped them. R. Adaikammai, village coordinator of Gramalaya said that the women would have to walk to a quarry at least three kilometres away to defecate, bathe, or to change their pads when they menstruate. “There have been incidents when men working in the quarry have attempted to harass the women. Fearing them, the girls would go early in the morning before sunrise or late in the night,” she said.
Jeeva Jyothi, a young girl studying in class 12 said that she had suffered from severe rashes and discomfort while using commercially made pads. “I was never able to pay attention when the teacher was teaching. We could not even change the pad in school and would wait till we reach home, and then wait till it turned dark, which would be after over eight to ten hours,” she said.
Chellamma, an 80-year-old woman, purchased a packet of ‘Feel Free’, worth ₹ 350, with her own earnings from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and sent it to her granddaughters in Tiruchi. “I struggled with using cloth as a child, but these commercial pads are worse. I’ve seen all the girls suffer,” she said. As there was nowhere to dispose of the pads, women would dump them at the man-made ponds near the quarry, and the entire area would be an eyesore,” she said.
Gramalaya combined the promotion of Feel Free pads with its menstrual hygiene management (MHM) training and construction of toilets in the village. The women now use the toilets and are also comfortable when they menstruate, they said. Young children too, are taught the importance of personal hygiene.
The toilets have also saved their lives. When Cyclone Gaja wreaked havoc in the region, many families took shelter in the toilets.