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Hard time managing the sanitary pads? Here are a few alternatives

When I first got my period, I was 9 years old. My mother handed me a sanitary napkin and showed me how to use it. For about the next ten years, I thought they are the only way to handle menstrual blood. This is true for the majority of brown girls from a middle or upper-class background, even though sanitary napkins can be ridiculously inconvenient. They can cause rashes and infections.  You have to constantly make sure they are correctly positioned to prevent leaking. And don’t even think of swimming or any fun in the water during that time of the month. Yet, most women in this region of the world do not even question why there aren’t better solutions to something that affects half the population.

In reality, there are many alternatives to sanitary napkins, and a lot of them are actually available in Dhaka. While many of these options may sound uncomfortable or fussy at first, it is worth at least learning about them. After all, especially with something as essential and inescapable as menstruation, it is important to make informed choices, even if you choose to stick to ordinary sanitary napkins. So, here are three other methods of collecting menstrual blood that you might want to consider.

Tampons

Tampons are small, soft “sticks” of absorbent material that are about the size of your thumb. Unlike pads, they collect menstrual blood internally – that is, they are inserted into the vagina and left there to soak up the blood. There are many variations of tampons and just like pads, you should pick the ones that suit your flow. There are kinds of tampons which come with an inserter – which is essentially a syringe-like apparatus that helps you place the tampon correctly – and there are also kinds without inserters, which require you to use your fingers. If inserted correctly and far enough, you should not feel the tampon inside you when you stand or walk, nor should it leak. Just like pads, you must change them every 6 or so hours, depending on the flow. You can take them out by pulling them by the string attached to the end of the tampon. Tampons can be extremely helpful particularly in case of sports, as it allows for free movement, as well as eliminates the risk of rashes or infections.

Where to find them: Unimart, certain Facebook pages such as Quick Mart BD and Fashionavo.

Reusable menstrual pads

A huge downside of both pads and tampons are the environmental impacts of the menstrual waste they generate. Not only are pads and tampons made of plastic themselves, their packaging and wrapping also contribute to the enormous amount of waste produced. Given that a woman goes through more than 250 pads & tampons a year, this number becomes even larger and scarier when we multiply it by almost half the population on Earth. This is where eco-friendly options of menstrual blood collection come in. One such alternative is the reusable menstrual pad. They are exactly like normal pads, except made entirely of cloth. Get started with four to six cloth sanitary pads (make sure you grab the right size!) and all you have to do after use is clean the stains and wash them like normal clothes. Cloth pads are far more comfortable to wear and last 2-3 years, so you’ll feel much less guilty about the environment (and your wallet) after each cycle.

Where to find them: Jatrabiroti

Menstrual cups

Another eco-friendly alternative is the menstrual cup. It is exactly what the name suggests – a plastic cup. Much like a tampon, the menstrual cup has to be folded and inserted into the vagina. The sides of the cup are soft and seals against the walls of the vagina and collects the blood inside. After 6-12 hours, depending on your flow, all you have to do is remove, empty, wash with water and reinsert. After each cycle, it is crucial to sterilize your cup in boiling water as instructed by the product. Used properly and in the correct size, menstrual cups are extremely comfortable, convenient, and easy to use. They can also last up to 10 years, which is a huge cut down on both menstrual waste and money!

Where to find them: Organicup BD

Menstruation is as natural a process as eating, and so it is important to do proper research and make informed choices about how to deal with periods too. As a South Asian society, it is generally unthinkable to put anything in your vagina before marriage, which explains why menstrual cups and tampons particularly can seem like baffling, alien concepts. However, moving past those taboos and myths can only liberate us. Periods are here for the long haul, so explore your options without stigma and find what works best for you.

Rethinking feminine hygiene with jute based sanitary pads

Compared to other females in their early mid-twenties, I have a fairly manageable period cycle. I was a tad early and started to bleed from the green age of 12. So far I have roughly used up 3000 pieces of disposable sanitary pads. All of which are made out of materials that include plastics, chemicals and not 100% biodegradable and environmentally friendly components. This is the solitary contribution of one sole person to the never-ending global pollution.

Now, as a person who’s concerned about the planet (because, duh! We only live here!), this calculation alarms me. A big chunk of the world’s population bleeding on any menstruation product every 6- 8 hours is creating this huge pile of junk that we don’t know how to permanently get rid of.

Menstruation Cups have been introduced as a solution to all this, but let’s face it- its basically the luxury like our government thinks menstruation products are. And it’s not accessible to the female population of a country where only 11% of the menstruating population uses safe hygienic products.

Jute to the rescue

After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi included it in one of his public speeches, jute based sanitary pads has become the talk of the town in our neighbouring country. People from all sides of India, as well as from this side of the border, are congratulating the IJIRA (Indian Jute Industries Research Association) on this breakthrough.

Rethinking feminine hygiene: Jute based sanitary pads

It’s a breakthrough because, with this, the cost per pad is down to 1-2 Rs, whereas the cost of the regular pads is 8-12 Rs/piece.

It will also dissolve in the soil after dumping, which removes a huge concern for the environmentalists along the way. Not to mention the boost it will give to the dying jute industry of a country that used to have jute as one of its primary crops.

But is this the first time?

Here comes the interesting part. It’s not. 

In Kenya, JaniPad was introduced to keep girls from dropping out of school. It was made of Water Hyacinth which was chosen because of its high water absorbency rate. But the project got shut off due to lack of funding and proper management.

Bangladesh had its efforts too

Afterwards, JaniPad sparked the idea to use Water Hyacinth, along with Cotton, as raw material for pads into a student of BRAC University, Naziba Nayla Wafa.

It dissolved within two weeks of discarding and water hyacinth keeps the absorbency up to the much-needed scale. She had a team of 10 female workers who made these and distributed them among 2000 women in Mohammadpur Geneva Camp.

She used it herself, along with 2 other team members to test it. Naziba wanted to work on it more, but could not due to a number of reasons.

A late limelight

The IJIRA project, Saathi, started more than a year ago. But it only came to light as Modi mentioned it himself. Saathi is even getting fund from the Central Government because the then Minister of Textile, Smriti Irani pursued it herself to save the Jute Industry and promote female hygiene at the same time. So the chance of failure for this project is slimming down. And if it gets to zero, then this will prove a little involvement from the authorities is enough to ensure a safer and better tomorrow for all.

The planet we live in and the womb we come out of- both of them deserve the utmost care. But somehow these are the two things we treat in the most careless manner. We are polluting the Earth knowingly and unknowingly on a daily basis. We are not providing proper accessible hygiene and medical care for the female reproductive system. This is a step that shows it is possible to do both without even taking a dig at the economy. All it needs is the willingness to do so.

I wish the best of luck to Sathi and fingers crossed we learn something from this.