The Sustainable Menstrual Care (SMC) Initiative is a novel initiative by EFG Foundation through which we provide environmentally sustainable menstrual care awareness and education to college students. Through this initiative, we enable college students to pass-on menstrual awareness to members of institutions in their locality including schools and community in general. By adding to the work done by organisations like UN Women and UNICEF, we work towards removing the taboo around menstruation in India by 2030.
Although menstruation is a natural process, there are a lot of taboos and misconceptions surrounding the topic. This can cause adverse health outcomes in menstruators. It also causes adolescent girls to miss out on normal childhood experiences and activities in life. But with changing times, there is a positive shift seen in people’s perspective on menstruation. In this context, the SMC Initiative aims to universalise knowledge of reproductive system and menstrual health and hygiene practices among menstruators while spreading awareness about the importance of shifting to sustainable menstrual care products.
The highlight of the SMC Initiative is an innovative approach that believes in the potential of youth in community mobilisation and their role in working for social causes. We envision our mentors to be responsible citizens and community leaders of the future who are vocal about menstrual awareness, gender equality and sustainability. Hence, this initiative is a unique opportunity for college students to act as an agent of change on-ground by spreading menstrual awareness and breaking myths and taboos related to the topic. Students who take part in this initiative will be working towards addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals like SDG 3, SDG 5 and SDG 11 (Good Health and Well-being, Gender Equality and Sustainable Cities and Communities respectively).
Sustainable menstruation is not something that needs to be limited to environmental issues alone. This concept covers health and economic sustainability as well. By educating young menstruators on menstruation, menstrual health & hygiene and sustainable menstruation, EFG Foundation is hoping to achieve the following benefits for society:
- 1. Identify reproductive health problems without delay: Greater awareness among menstruators about the reproductive system, knowledge of what a normal menstrual cycle looks like and awareness of the steps that they can take to remain healthy during their periods will help reduce the health problems associated with menstruation. Along with this, knowledge of common reproductive health issues like Endometriosis, PCOD, PCOS etc. that is gained through the My Period, My Pride course will help students to identify and receive treatment for these problems before symptoms become severe.
- 2. Reduce health problems created by single use menstrual hygiene products: Single use menstrual hygiene products contain chemicals such as bleach, super-absorbent polymers like sodium polyacrylate as well as artificial fragrances. Also, the plastic component in these products is as high as 90%. The use of these chemicals and plastic materials in a product which is to be placed in close contact with the female reproductive system is having a negative health impact to many. For this reason, sharing information about the benefits of reusable menstrual hygiene products and convincing students to shift to products like cloth pads, menstrual cups etc. will have long term health benefits for these students.
- 3. Help students save money by switching to reusable menstrual hygiene products: Menstruators using single use menstrual hygiene products like sanitary napkins have to spend at least 100 rupees during every menstrual cycle. This means that a normal bodily process like menstruation will cost young menstruators at least 1000 rupees every year. If these same menstruators decide to switch to reusable menstrual hygiene products, their cost per menstrual cycle will reduce to approximately Rs. 10 per cycle for menstrual cups or Rs. 25 per cycle for cloth pads! One problem here is that there is a one-time investment required for this. However, considering the difference in expenditure per cycle and the duration of the benefits, switching to reusable products will definitely help students and families save significant amounts of money in the long run.
- 4. Help make the process of menstruation environment friendly: Almost two thirds of menstruators in India are currently using single-use sanitary hygiene products like sanitary napkins and tampons. According to Swachh Bharat India, each menstruator who uses single-use sanitary napkins produce 125 kilograms of menstrual waste in their lifetime! And when you consider that there are approximately 35 crore menstruators in India, the total number of sanitary napkins being disposed of in India every year is 1200 crore! This poses a huge challenge not just in terms of the quantity of menstrual waste ending up in landfills every year but also in terms of the effort it takes to separate this menstrual waste from other types of waste materials. And this mixing of waste materials also poses significant health risks to sanitation workers and rag pickers who often work without the requisite protective equipment.
We believe that along with making menstruation a comfortable phase of life for menstruators, we should also work to create awareness of a sustainable menstrual ecosystem. Each menstruator’s understanding of sustainable menstruation needs to evolve in order to meaningfully address the issues related to menstruation. It is important to understand that everyday choices can have long lasting consequences in our life. Consequently, what we can do is make conscious choices in favour of preserving our health, saving our money and preserving our environment at the same time.
Keywords – Menstrual awareness, mentors, sustainable menstrual care, menstrual hygiene, sustainability