by Mary Cairns, April 17, 2022
Menstrual hygiene has long been an issue in rural India as it is in many other regions of the world. Misconceptions persist as well. And options for sanitary products are often limited to rags, leaves and dirt.
The teachers at Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES) realized they had a problem on their hands when they noticed girls often missed school when they were menstruating. The girls could not afford to buy commercial sanitary napkins and were using cloth rags, which needed to be washed and allowed to dry before being reused. This was difficult for the girls to manage while at school, so they were staying home.
Thus began the Rags to Pads Project.
In 2008, PPES received a grant from the DuPont company for sanitary pad manufacturing equipment. This equipment was developed by a social activist and entrepreneur, Arunachalam Muruganantham, who became famous through the film, Padman. PPES was the first site to use the equipment to make low-cost sanitary pads.
Several Anupshahar village women were employed through this project, making sanitary pads. The girls purchased these pads with money they received for daily school attendance. The pads were also sold in the village. This initial Rags to Pads Project continued for several years, but eventually closed because maintaining the equipment was difficult, and the pads were not the best quality.
PPES began seeking donations for sanitary napkins. Volunteer Mary Cairns identified a company in the US that was willing to donate low cost pads to PPES for every package they sold. This program was based on “buy a pack, donate a pack.” Unfortunately these pads were not a good option because of their poor quality.
During Covid, a group of high school students in Delhi made a one-time donation of 5,000 packs of sanitary pads to PPES. The girls came to PPES to purchase sanitary pads even when the school was closed due to Covid.
Cairns continued researching companies that manufacture low-cost sanitary pads and ordered samples for the girls to try. Students identified the type they liked best, and the school took on the expense to make the sanitary pads available to them.
The seed money for this iteration of the Rags to Pads Project is made possible through a $3000 donation from PPES supporter Julie Gates and another supporter, Vatsala Arora, who raised $2000 toward the cause.
The project is sustainable, too, since the students can purchase packs of pads for 21 rupees (27 cents) from their PPES account.
Volunteers Julie Gates and Katie Smith and others taught PPES students about menstrual health. The girls are fortunate to be educated about their bodies and sexual development, since discussion of both subjects are taboo in this region.
While PPES and Prana Health Center continue to accept donations, an effort is underway to provide menstrual cups as an alternative to sanitary pads.
PPES teacher Madhu Sharma completed a pilot project of the device. In 2021 Madhu and a female gynecologist taught a group of menstruating girls how to use, clean and maintain menstrual cups. After a few months, all the girls gave positive feedback and wanted to continue with the product. Another company is working to develop “period underwear,” which will be tested by PPES students as well.
Efforts are underway in India, and throughout the world, to reduce waste associated with sanitary products. PPES students are fortunate to have several options available to them.
To make a donation or learn more about the feminine hygiene project, please contact Ritu at PPES Ritu@pardadapardadi.org.
Julie Gates and Katie Smith visited Pardada Pardadi in 2015. Julie continues to fundraiser on behalf of PPES. Vatsala Arora is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and supports PPES through her fundraising efforts. Madhu Sharma is a teacher at PPES and leads various projects, including health and hygiene and personality development