Kavya Menon, a biotechnology graduate from IIT Madras, worked with rural communities to understand the need for menstrual hygiene, addressed taboos and introduced simple home remedies during her SBI Youth Fellowship tenure. Currently, she resides in Chennai, and conducts sessions for urban and semi-urban communities on menstrual health and hygiene and various MHM options. She is associated with Sustainable Menstruation Kerala Collective since early this year and is an Eco Femme ambassador. She just completed the #AarthavaYaanam campaign over a month in collaboration with The Red Cycle.
Here she shares her ‘making the switch’ story…Our thanks and love to her!
16 years back, I got the first whisper. Over the next few years our relation became better, and I also became a hoarder of varieties of disposable sanitary napkins – stayfree, kotex, shapers, always in different shapes, sizes, colours and fragrances became my best friends, but secret friends; never showed them off to my bestest buddies even. Maybe, occasionally gave it to a classmate or colleague who asked me for one in hushed tones.
9 years back, I first heard about tampons. I had the weirdest response to it.
7 years back I tried one, but I was not prepared yet
5 years back, I wanted to make my own biodegradable pad, I made a few, but failed (the seeds of sustainable menstruation was thrown in)
3 years back, I saw videos on cloth pads, I made few on my own; used them as panty liners; but still was not sure of using them beyond that
2.9 years back, life in a remote village, and the lack of luxury to forget disposable pads after their use, made me decide to make better cloth pads. But still, the results were not good
2.8 years back, my life in the village, lead me to bond with many women and girls, who were strangers till then, on leading a dialogue on menstrual health and hygiene. My determination to find a solution was strong
2.7 years back, I met the worldly wise Kathy from Eco Femme, and got introduced to a world of comfortable and functional cloth pads. The colors were mesmerising, but I wanted to take it slow, one pad at a time. A purple and green Day Pad Plus. I made the biggest mistake of using it on a heavy bleeding day on field; 12 hours straight without any chance to change it; skin chafing (because of extreme moisture, I didn’t know the reason then) and staining my dress were least encouraging to start with. I washed it, stains remained; and decided to forget it forever.
That month and next 2 months, I used disposable pads with a lot of displeasure. I had also written to Kathy about my experience. She provided me with support to maintain it well, and also sent me another night pad, just in case I had got a malfunctioning one when I bought it first. We were also in the talks of giving cloth pads to adolescent girls who attend my sessions on menstrual health and hygiene. We were getting unsure of this proposal. How can I give something that I am not satisfied with? This dilemma was huge. I read and saw more, did some dry runs with using and maintaining the cloth pads. Those turned out to be promising.
2.5 years back, I completed my menstrual cycle with cloth pads alone, just 2 pads. Office was close to home, and I had the flexibility to wash it every time I changed it. It was summer too, so they dried quick. It was difficult, but I was determined to use them, before I gave the pads to anyone else. End of that month I started my sessions in full swing.
1.5 years back I publicly announced on Facebook, one year of using cloth pads. It was also the first day that I ran 5km, during peak flow, with my faithful cloth pads
1 year back, I started using cloth pads on 2 day train journeys, and was not disgusted at all. In the meantime, I was also spreading the message of sustainable menstruation among every kind of people that I talked to.
Since 8 months, I had not once used a non-reusable product to manage menstruation.
4 months back, I went to attend a conference (3 days), where I shared my room with a fellow delegate, who had never seen or heard about reusable pads, but still managed to wash and reuse my pads. She was amused, and felt that I was unnecessarily burdening myself, but nevertheless said that she was happy to be sharing room with a person who could manage to wash pads, hang them to dry and reuse them, even when someone was watching them.
1 month back, I went on a motorbike trip, 1500km, in the cold Nilgiris, staying in tents, without any bathrooms/toilets, rode pillion for up to 16 hours a day, used 4 cloth pads each day, washed them in public toilets/taps/petrol stations and dried them on my motorbike handles, and managed this with a total of 6 pads (2 night pads, 3 day plus pads, 1 day pad). Cramps were managed well, and fatigue. My husband helped me manage with minimum accessories (face wash & mug); washed 2 pads every morning. Two mornings when it got too cold and my hands became numb, he did the washing.
Unknown people and my fellow riders (CTC team of 13 bikers – 12 men & 1 woman) were all curious about my pads drying on the handles and my needing more water and time to get ready in the mornings. All were quite sportive about it. I was thinking of abandoning the trip, for fear of cramps and of using a cup at least. In the end, I decided to trust myself and went ahead; but I got 2 more wonderful things, amazing support from my husband, and acceptance among my fellow riders.