A piece of cloth OR a tool to break the silence and shame!!
“Sharm kee baat hai sahab, izzat ka mamla hai..kaun bolega? Saara gaon jaanta hai kee, vo tetanus sey mari thee.. hook key karan..” (It is a matter of shyness/modesty, a matter of dignity; who will speak about it? The entire village knows that she died of tetanus.. because of the hook)
These words still echo.. almost a decade ago we found this ghastly reality of a woman who died of tetanus due to a rusted hook in the piece of blouse, she used during menses !! This was shocking and unreal and it acted like fuel to go deeper into the non-issues of sanitary pads and menstruation..
An extensive search on Google yielded nothing.. no major research and no solution in this part of the world, hardly a decade back. We started traveling to rural India to understand the realities and what we found this still holds true!! Millions of women use sand, ash, dry grass, rugs, rags to plastic sheets in the name of sanitary pads. Over the years we came across a deep rooted culture of shame and silence around this. Somewhere women are forced to sleep in cow sheds while at many places they can’t enter the kitchen. Suppression, isolation, superstition, rituals, lack of a viable solution.. it’s a saga of indignity and trauma around this most taboo issue.
We started turning small pieces of clean cloth into sanitary pads - now called ‘MY Pad’ and started raising our voice on different national and international forums. Instead of just using these pads as a product Goonj uses them as a tool, as an entry point to open up the subject, create awareness and force people to think and open up.. In the last few years, Goonj has been able to create over 2.5 million environment friendly, re-usable, economic cloth sanitary pads - MY Pads. This hascertainly made a small dent in turning this non issue into an issue.
To mainstream this non issue, Goonj has recently launched ‘NJPC- A Million Voices’ a global campaign to bring together a million voices from across the globe. The campaign aims to highlight the culture of shame and silence that countless young girls and women face all over the world, around menses. The main element of the campaign is the questionnaire (http://njpc.goonj.org/lets-get-started/), which aims at getting one million men and women from all walks of life to share their thoughts, opinions and practices around menses. YOU too should fill this form. The site also shares a lot of global disturbing facts, practices, case studies and research on the issue. The objective is to mainstream the issue and to shun the taboo around this natural biological process.
Goonj has been working on this issue for almost a decade now. Through the ‘Million Voices campaign’ we want to start a dialogue among the masses, making it a normal thing to talk about…because we feel shattering the silence is the starting point to deal with the taboos, embarrassment and health risks associated with menses. Some disturbing facts highlighting the need for this campaign;
The million voices collected through this campaign will be a part of Goonj’s sustained efforts to bring about a mindset change in the civic society on this issue. This campaign is an extension of Goonj’s ongoing work across India. Six activities that you can do to be a part of this campaign could be accessed at http://njpc.goonj.org/newsletter-a-piece-of-cloth-or-a-tool-to-break-the-silence-and-shame-do-read-and-act/
Please spread the word in your own network. Get as many people as possible to share their thoughts, experiences and opinions through the Million Voices campaign form. Click http://njpc.goonj.org/lets-get-started/
It’s time you make your voice heard…
GOONJ has been working on the issue of menstrual hygiene for the past decade. Our aim is four fold;
Our strategy; GOONJ’s ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’ (NJPC) initiative starts with providing a physical product but stresses more on long term change in practices, behavior, education & replication. Developed with indigenous processes, out of old cloth contributed by the urban masses, the clean pad is provided at a reasonable cost while we also teach the user women to make it one on their own.
Goonj’s holistic approach
Goonj initiates discussion among urban masses on the issue; Urban women and masses have instinctive empathy, understand the universal need, they also have have surplus cloth which they need to discard.
Goonj acts as a facilitator; collects clothes, sorts clothes into wearable and unwearable, value adds by making MY Pads out of un-wearable cloth. Rural grassroots organizations help with spreading awareness and distributing MY Pads. Women learn about menses related health and hygiene issues and get MY Pads and undergarments. Women and their families work on their development issues under Goonj’s Cloth for Work initiative to get wearable cloth, which they can use later as sanitary pads…
Why cloth pads?
Because they are;
- Easily available
- Easily disposable
- Biodegradable, environment friendly
- Easily replicable
- No technological or big financial investment required
About MY Pad; Instead of trying to introduce a new product or a new design, it’s an improvisation and mass scale replication of the existing usage pattern. We are simply removing the risk elements of the existing practices, improving upon and doing a lot of value addition in terms of cleanliness and awareness.
Latest Update; In 2013 when the scenic state of Uttarakhand faced one of the worst floods in India’s history, Goonj was there to provide large scale relief material. In the second phase we are working on various aspects of rehabilitation, one of the focus areas is to reach out to young girls in schools and women living in far flung parts of the state through the NJPC programme.Organising meetings, reaching out My Pads and undergarments and making them a part of the dialogue around menses related taboos, myths and health and hygiene related issues has been a priority… More on our website www.goonj.org
Some recognition on Not Just a Piece of Cloth:
Goonj is opening up one of the most taboo and ignored subject of menstrual hygiene and creating awareness about its health and hygiene aspects among rural women. The shame and silence associated with the issue forces women in the interiors to use all kinds of unhygienic things from sand, rags to ashes. Goonj started opening up this most taboo subject in 2004-05 and came up with a very cost effective, biodegradable sanitary pad made out of waste cotton and semi cotton cloth. A number of national and international agencies have recognized this very basic solution.Today GOONJ's 'MY-PAD" is reaching a lot of villages across the country. Some glimpses of our interaction with women in Uttarakhand where this initiative has found huge acceptability post disaster. You can join GOONJ’s “60 Dignified Days” campaign to reach this basic of life to maximum women in the villages of India.A contribution of Rs 1000 or $24 will reach 12 packs of “My Pad” and 3 undergarments to 4 women for a year with lot of information to open up this subject.
Millions of women use sand, wood ash, old rags, newspapers & even plastic bags due to non-availability of sanitary pads in India. Shame & silence associated with the issue makes it the most taboo subject even among women. The irony is that even the biggest health/RCH projects don’t have a budget for sanitary pads. This is a nationwide intervention, which starts with providing a physical product but stresses more on changing practices, behavior change, education & replication in the long term. The clean cloth pad (called My Pads) is developed out of old cloth collected from urban masses. Its made with highly indigenous processes while we also teach the user women to make it on their own. This sensitive subject is addressed while emphasizing on behavior change & knowledge exchange through meetings, exhibitions etc. on related health & hygiene issues.
We call our strategy as ‘TRIPPLE A’ - awareness, accessibility and affordability. Until a women has all three of these, making a long term impact on her behavior around menstrual hygiene is difficult. Thus GOONJ’s NJPC is not just about reaching a clean cloth sanitary pad but more a holistic solution which is taking care of all aspects of the problem.
In the cities for the first time we are initiating discussion on this issue by directly involving the urban women, drawing on their instinctive empathy. We use old cotton cloth lying useless in the cities as a resource to address this important yet taboo basic need of the village & slum women. In village India we use this pad as a tool to connect with women, to get them to talk about their challenges and health issues, to discuss with them and generate more awareness on the related health and hygiene issues. The use of cloth; a material most village women are comfortable and familiar with, coupled with the reuse possibilities makes it a viable option. This is a highly replicable, cheap and easy to do initiative which brings an environment friendly product.
Not Just A Piece Of Cloth
Women are the most marginalized in the 72% of India’s population living in rural areas. Given the poor economic status of a vast mass, a sanitary napkin for the essential biological process of menses is the last thing on the mind of most. They end up using all kinds of rags leading to widespread unhealthy practices during menses. This forms a strong connect with the prevalence of RTI and other pelvic diseases in India. The shame & silence associated with the issue makes it the most taboo subject even among women, as a vast majority face great hardships & indignity, besides health risks due to this problem.
Goonj is using old cloth lying useless in the cities as a resource to address this important yet taboo basic need of the village & slum women and in doing so focusing on a critical gap in women’s health. The clean cloth napkins are an entry point to generate more awareness on the related health and hygiene issues. In the cities for the first time we are initiating discussion on this issue by directly involving the urban women, drawing on their instinctive empathy. The use of cloth; a material most village women are comfortable and familiar with, coupled with the reuse possibilities makes it a viable option.
Recent media coverage
1. Asian Tribune wrote “Movie with four friends or dignity for four women in ‘those days’ www.asiantribune.com/node/61865 All it takes is US $ 24 or Indian Rupees 1,000 to bring dignity to how a women deals with this monthly basic need. The choice is yours…
2. A Podcast with Anshu Gupta, Ashoka Fellow and Schwab Fellow, the man behind Goonj’s pioneering work on the ignored and taboo basic need of a woman in rural India. Highlights the thought process and philosophy of Goonj – ‘Creating Paradigms: Where Trash is Currency’ - www.khemkafoundation.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=242&Itemid=259
3. Session at NASA: Using urban waste streams as a powerful development resource in rural India, Goonj is dedicated to saving lives, empowering people, and ensuring dignity for the underserved poor in rural India. Through its activities, Goonj helps to create a parallel economy that is not ‘cash based’, but ‘trash based’ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daZP09zGHLA&feature=youtu.be&noredirect=1
4. David Bornstein of The New York Times wrote about the journey of Goonj to create shelter for people in rural areas using the so called urban discard. “Bridging the Clothing Divide” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/clothing-the-poorest-for-survival/
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