Photo by Natracare
Every woman has a clear memory of the first time she got her period. For me, I was just shy of twelve, and was too embarrassed to tell anyone until the following morning. This is an all too- familiar emotion amongst young girls, which often carries on into adulthood: shame. Whether we are speaking about a twelve year-old me crafting a DIY toilet paper pad in my aunt’s bathroom, or a girl in Tamil Nadu, India isolated from her family for that introduction into menstruation, young girls are too often told they have ‘become a woman,’ without any tangible information about what that means for their bodies. This lack of access to knowledge about our own bodies is the root of all that unproductive, frightening shame.
Eco Femme is combating this centuries-old pattern; since 2010, this woman-led social enterprise has been providing education to young girls and older women, reducing waste, and implementing community support.
Eco Femme is empowering young girls through education. Based in the Tamil Nadu district of India, the organization is engaging in a particularly loaded conversion. Though dialogue around menstruation in India has very recently—after a long tradition of social taboo—opened, the majority of young women (71%) remain unaware about menstruation until they get their first period. Even then, girls are in the dark about the biological information about menstruation, or the range of products available to them.
This lack of awareness is a serious issue, and the dearth of access to menstrual products, or even ways to dispose of those products, have even more detrimental effects on the lives of young women. Every year, 23 million girls drop out of school due to a lack of: menstrual hygiene management facilities, availability of sanitary pads, and education around menstruation. The effects of menstrual taboo run deep, and can derail the futures of these young women.
Through its Pad for Pad programme, Eco Femme is pushing back against the silence surrounding menstruation. This initiative is designed for girls under the age of eighteen, and offers an introductory overview about the fundamentals of menstruation: its phases, how to track one’s cycle, and how to prepare for menstruation if it has yet to be experienced.
A key point in Pad for Pad’s curriculum is the inclusion of all menstrual products available to young menstruators. Instructors cover all options in detail: how to wash and use products, as well as how they are produced. Once these girls have been given the knowledge to allow for informed choice, those who are interested in cloth pads are given a free product from Eco Femme.