Eco Femme ambassador, Jharna, shares her story on switching to sustainable menstrual products and becoming a menstrual health educator.
I have always had a decent, mildly painful, only 5 day long period and had no physical reasons to make a switch to sustainable products. The chemicals present in the sanitary napkins are undoubtedly harmful for the genital area but honestly, it never gave me rashes, irritation or any sort of discomfort. The only thing had motivated me to switch was the determination to reduce the sanitary waste I could generate in my future cycles if I continued to use Disposable Sanitary Napkins (DSNs).
In Oct-Nov 2018, I watched a series of Instagram videos where a friend talked about her experience of using a menstrual cup and how it changed her relationship with her periods. I had known about menstrual cups and had been thinking to make a switch, but the existence of a real experience of a friend made it more believable. The fact that I had one “go-to-person” for all my queries proved to be a major factor in strengthening my decision to switch to a cup. This is what made me step into the field of menstrual education. I wanted to be that go-to-person for all those who are hesitant and uncomfortable with the idea of using sustainable alternatives to DSNs.
Before starting my journey as a menstrual educator I wanted to be sure of my experiment with a menstrual cup and if I was comfortable enough to spread it’s advantages to others. I took 3-4 months to try the cup and then adjust to insertion, usage and removal. Only when I was sure of the success of my experiment, I decided to promote sustainable menstruation. Also, I read extensively about all menstrual hygiene products and their components, effects, uses, production, disposal and waste generated out of their disposal.
Thereafter, I started sharing my experience on social media and decided to do a session in my college sharing the details of my experience. I also introduced menstrual cups to people who attended the session who had no clue about such a product being available in the market. I got a variety of feedbacks from people, and some also decided to use a menstrual cup after listening to my experience. This escalated my interest and encouraged me to take up more educational sessions not just with college students but also with underprivileged adolescents, educated youth, and older women.
While reading about various menstrual health products, I also decided to try reusable cloth pads and ordered one for myself. A cloth pad proved to be a very comfortable alternative after using a cup in the day time and the cloth eased out the tension accumulated in the genital area all day.
“I got in touch with Eco Femme who supported me with information, products and guidance, whenever required and also made my quest for spreading menstrual education more enriching.”
The usage of cloth pads also involves washing and drying of pads properly. The idea of washing one’s own blood has irked many. The stigma and shame associated with menstrual blood has contributed to this resistance to wash cloth pads. And therefore, communication and discussions can change minds but de-stigmatisation is a long process.
I reached out to several NGOs, start-ups, and governmental bodies in Delhi to create awareness sessions for people belonging to different age groups and varied social backgrounds. Doing educational sessions with the young and old isn’t just about giving information but also about learning from them. Talking with people from various backgrounds made me learn new practices, myths, stories and experiences. Some of them were age-old effective remedies while some were heart-breaking rigid taboos that will take years to unlearn.
Moreover, this exchange of information also brought a deep connection between me and the group. For those who had never talked about periods with anyone in the family, the discussion was not only educational but also spiritual in the sense that they could connect with their bodies thereafter. Such sessions, if done at an early stage in life, can bring about a significant change in the outlook towards the body and its’ processes.
At last, I believe that small steps and more ground-level discussions with people from all walks of life can improve the narratives around menstruation and build a more healthy, safe and inclusive space for dialogues.
Jharna – Eco Femme ambassador