Yesterday, we visited the Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) right outside of Auroville in the neighboring village of Irumbai to hear a talk from Jessamijn Miedema, the co-founder of Eco Femme. Eco Femme is a social enterprise focused in the area of hygiene management, working to spread awareness about eco-positive menstrual practices. The company has created a product line of premium washable cloth pads as an alternative to disposable sanitary napkins.
Eco Femme works with women and girls in rural Tamil Nadu in Southern India to provide education on how to manage their menstruation in a healthy and dignified way. Miedema discussed how they were looking to increase the livelihood of self-help groups for women and did so by having a team of 28 women from the village, 10 of which are full time jobs, produce the pads on site.
In order to produce eco-friendly sanitary napkins, Eco Femme had to do a lot of research. They started by conducting a focus group of about 300 women to figure out how women were actually experiencing menstruation. In India there is a strong taboo around menstruation. For example, there is an association with uncleanliness; women are not able to go to temple or walk the dog while menstruating. This was very interesting to me coming from a Western culture where menstruation is very much a part of growing up. Unlike India, where I grew up in the US, pads and tampons were readily available for young girls, as well as medication for associated illnesses and education on how it all works.
In India, girls and women have limited body literacy and often do not have the proper materials to take care of them during that time of the month. Without the necessary products and information, I can only imagine that life for young Indian women comes to a complete halt during the few days a month when she is menstruating.
Half of women are using disposable pads and the other half are using old folded cloth. The government was providing girls in school with disposable sanitary napkins, but with no place to dispose of them. This along with many other aspects has caused a massive waste issue. This is why Eco Femme started producing washable pads. The pads are sold in India, as well as internationally. They started a program, Pad for Pad, where any time a pad was purchased internationally, a donation of 80 rupees would be donated to purchase a washable pad for an adolescent girl.
The washable pads seem like an adequate solution to the disposable method. The pads, which come in varying sizes, cost around 220 rupees, which is around three Euros and last for about 75 washes. The most interesting part of the discussion was when Miedema showed us the pad that was created to resemble the old cloths that women were using, however more efficient and leak proof. When these particular pads are unfolded they just look like a square of material, so when hung on a clothesline to dry, would not attract unwanted attention or cause any embarrassment. I thought this was very perceptive of the girls’ and women’s’ needs, while remaining culturally sensitive.
Eco Femme is continuing to encourage females to take better care of their bodies and the Earth and creating a safe space for girls to talk and share personal stories about menstruation. This is a huge issue facing young women in rural India and I’m excited to see the lasting effects of this company and its campaigns.
By Alexa Pizzi