India is a land full of beliefs patched with numerous religions and non-theistic norms. And these beliefs have been carried away by generation after generation in the name of holding the backbone of our culture strong. Some choose the carry the blind beliefs and some dare to leave the ones that make no sense. But, what do we do of a strong backbone if the hands, the brain, and the future of the body are slowly being eaten up by the mites of social norms for the sake of various dictations and policies framed by some unknowns of the society?
In India, a family’s value is often considered to be placed inside a Woman’s vagina as soon as she is born; there are millions of girls, who still await to get properly educated about their menstrual and sexual health while general norms and restrictions set by the society in the name of ‘Concern’ play with their feelings that lasts till the concrete of their adult mind dries up.
From being taught to hide Sanitary pads from boys in school to check the scar of stains in the uniform, ‘Pads’ have always been a girl’s savior in holding a pool filled with an entire week of blood, cramps, and mood swings. They are easy to use and dispose of. But even though Pads are handy and are used by two, among every three women in India, they aren’t safe, neither for us nor for the environment. Imagine the number of pads you have used in your lifetime and are planning to use. Each and every one of them would take 400-500 years to decompose. Now imagine the number of pads used by every woman in this world. Do our lands really has such capacity to keep a hold on each and every pad for thousands of years to come? Moreover using commercial pads leaves rashes in the name of keeping women dry and numerous research prove that, even if pads are convenient to use, they are carcinogenic. It’s high time we get aware of it and in a country like ours where ‘beliefs’ hold a higher priority than ‘logic’, it’s better we act now or never.
IF NOT A USUAL SANITARY NAPKIN, THEN WHAT?
Cultural norms could not make it possible for technological innovation to stop companies from introducing sanitary napkins. And the same innovations could successfully come up with various substitutes for plastic filled sanitary napkins. As women, we were always left with fewer options to make a choice from. But not anymore. Today we have with us, Abhirami Prakash. She’s the founder of ‘Pirai’, a homegrown brand that makes cloth pads for women of every art and angle. She’s here with us to talk about how with the help of innovation, she could manage to bring back the traditional use of wearing cotton pads during periods. She’s also here to address some of the concerns women generally have with regards to using a pad made up of layers of cloth.
1. Hello ma’am thank you for joining us today.
Thank you for having me, it would be my pleasure to address your concerns.
- Tell us something about Pirai.
Pirai is our very own brand of reusable cloth pads. Headed and managed by my mom and designed by my sister. The women who stitch for us are from our neighborhood by which they get an employment opportunity.
- What might be the reason why women in the past abstained from using pads made up of cloth and started opting for commercial pads?
One reason is, it’s a matter of comfort. In earlier days Women were using cloths but it was not maintained properly. Because it was a trouble for them, that their cloth might be visible to the men in the family. So they used to dry it in dark spaces where there was no sunlight. Also, the clothes that they used were often torn out from sarees that they no longer used. They also didn’t had the access to good detergent so they couldn’t wash better. So all these factors made the cloth very rough. And that made periods very uncomfortable. Further, earlier women were not moving outside. They were just confined to their respective homes. But when women started stepping outside for education, for work, they felt the commercial pads are a better option than cloth, so they need not wash it and they had the comfort of soft feel and they could dispose it also and it had more absorption capacity than the cotton pad.
- What are your views regarding Tampons and Menstrual Cups?
So for those, who are not very aware of what these are, there are two types of menstrual products. One is what we use externally and another is intravaginal like Tampons and Menstrual cups, that we use inside our vagina. In a country like India where people are fond of concepts like ‘Virginity’ and refuse to stick out of this idea, they feel virgin women using the intravaginal devices is something that is out of our ‘culture’.
The tampon is not very famous here. But menstrual cups are taking some time to catch up with people here. But in western culture tampons have always played a vital role. But I would say that tampon is not a very good option. It is also made up of bleached cotton which is again causing a lot of dump wastage and also intravaginal tissue. It causes lots of vaginal dryness and that’s a problem again.
A menstrual cup is a better option, it is a sustainable option, It can be used for more than 6-7 years. It’s made up of medical-grade silicon. So that is a more sustainable option.
- Even though cotton pads are sustainable and it soaks up the blood easily, wouldn’t it make women uncomfortable to wear them for a longer time? And since it doesn’t have any artificial fragrance, what refrains them from smelling?
Cotton pads, if used properly do not make women uncomfortable. When you use it, you would realize it. Because when we wear it for a longer period of time, we won’t feel dry of course, but at the same time the wetness won’t make us uncomfortable. It is because it has layers, for example, the Pirai pad that we make, it has five-six layers and in some pads, we add extra layers for the ones who go through heavy bleeding. The top layer that would directly come in contact with the skin would make you feel just like the commercial pad.
The fragrance that you are talking about is very much hazardous and it has lots of chemicals. Wearing a cloth pad would just make you feel like wearing a thick panty. Also, when the menstrual blood mixes up with the chemicals of commercial pads, it gives out a very bad odour. But blood in your panty isn’t going to smell so bad, so there isn’t going to be any kind of smell or uncomfortable feeling.
- Till how many hours can the cotton pads hold the blood?
Cotton pads can be used for four-six hours just like commercial pads if you have heavy bleeding or regular bleeding. But during less bleeding, in the third-fourth period day, it’s okay if you don’t want to change. But in commercial pads, it’s very important to change. How much time we can wear a cotton pad depends on how much bleeding we have.
- What advice would you like to the ones who are yet to start using cotton pads?
Using a cotton pad is not as easy as disposing of commercial pads. We need to understand the benefits we would get physically and environmentally. Every woman throws some 150 kgs of blood in her lifetime, which takes up 800 years to decompose inside the commercial pads. And using them might also cause hormonal disruption and it is quite severe that some people get migraines and allergies to those things. Washing and maintaining a cotton pad is needed. I won’t say it’s easy but it’s needed and comfortable. You will get used to it once you start using it. Consistently in one-two months. Also please research well enough about what would suit your body type and bleeding pattern. But try avoiding commercial pads, as much as possible, in order to become a conscious and well aware citizen and human.
There are few companies that make pads, which are made up of eco-friendly raw materials banana fiber, bamboo fiber, or water hyacinth. Pads made up of banana fiber are unbleached. In some pads, if there is wood pulp, then a bleaching process is involved to make it look white. This releases dioxins in the air. Dioxins are highly toxic and can lead to reproductive and developmental disorders in foetuses and endocrine disruption in adults. Organic pads are designed for one-time use. There could be bacterial growth if they are used for a long time when women wear the same pad for a long time to save cost or if they are short of pads.
For few such pads might not be very cost-effective, as they turn out to be a little costlier than the usual pads due to their quality. Also, it’s not possible for them to afford it every month. But after considering every side of the issue, using a menstrual cup seems more convenient for the sake of every sphere that is concerned and the same goes for having our hands-on cotton pads. Even though many of us didn’t grow up in an intravaginal product friendly environment, it’s better now or never. Using it might be new (but you won’t have to worry about you not having a pad every month for about five years) but for the sake of our health, environment, and pocket, I believe we all can do this and make a big change that our future deserves.