By Sanna Rasmussen
Have you ever wondered what is the difference between an NGO, for-profit business, and social enterprise? NGO’s are non-profit organizations whose aim is to help a community in need. A for-profit business is a company whose goal is to make a profit and accrue capital. A social enterprise is somewhat a combination of the two. Located in Auroville, Eco Femme is a social enterprise that produces and sells re-usable sanitary napkins, also known as menstrual pads, while simultaneously supporting the community of women who are behind the production. More than that, Eco Femme has created development programs, connected to the global consumption of their products, which educate women about menstrual hygiene in rural villages around India.
Around the world, many women choose to use disposable menstruation hygiene methods, as it has been marketed as being the normal, if not only option available. However, with increasing focus placed on the environmental impact of single-use plastic, menstruation hygiene has a place within this dialogue. Disposable sanitary pads and tampons are made of plastic that cannot be recycled, therefore, after the six-eight hour viable life span, these plastic products sit in the landfill for over 800 years before beginning to break down. Clearly the women of the world have been shown a norm that does not benefit anyone besides big industry; the giants who produce all of these single use products. Although pollution is a global issue, India in particular is a country that is highly populated, where many women do not have access to menstrual hygiene. In 2000, in a quest to redesign how women in India engage and manage their periods, Eco Femme was created.
Eco Femme’s re-usable menstrual pads are fabricated from layers of organic cotton, which is sourced in Tamil Nadu, India. They produce four varieties of pads; heavy night, day plus, day regular, and panty liner. The nighttime pad is made with seven layers of cloth, the day plus with six, the day regular with five, and the liner with three. All pads include a finishing cloth layer that is coated with poly urethane and is anti-leak. The pads are made with wings that have a snap, so that they fascine around the underwear and do not move while being worn. Once the pad is soiled, or for means of transporting it, the pad can be discreetly folded and fastened with the snap from the wings to create a small square of fabric.
For the logistics of cleaning the cloth pads, Eco Femme harnessed the power of mother earth. Once the pad is soiled, the wearer is to soak it in cold water and then hang to dry under the sun, which acts as a natural disinfectant. That being said, the pads are also machine washable.
In every step of the supply chain, the cloth pads are produced by women from villages near Bangalore and Auroville, India. The empowerment of women is a pillar of Eco Femme’s mission, and has led them to function as a social enterprise, with two developmental programs; Pad for Pad, and Pad for Sisters. Pad for pad involves international customers of Eco Femme, where for every pad bought, a pad is sponsored for an economically disadvantaged girl in rural India. Up to date, over 10,000 girls have been sponsored. Pad for Sisters is a program that subsidizes pads between 50 and 80 Rupees. On average, Pad for Sisters subsidizes 1,500 pads a month.
According to Eco Femme’s co-founder, Kathy, re-usable cloth menstruation pads have acted as a trojan horse by opening the once taboo dialogue around what menstruation is, and how women can understand it. Eco Femme promotes the message that women and girls should feel empowered by their periods, and embody all that it means to go through the transformative change of the body. Through the work of their development programs, Eco Femme is a model of what a social enterprise can do to benefit a community, while still engaging in a competitive business market. Eco Femme re-usable pads can be purchased in Auroville, throughout India, and on their website directly.