Let’s stop ‘whisper’ing: Kerala’s menstruation man

When Menstruation matters to a man
Let’s stop ‘whisper’ing:  Kerala’s menstruation man
Let’s stop ‘whisper’ing: Kerala’s menstruation man
Written by:

By Nageena Vijayan

As part of flood relief support for Chennai, I was trying to source sanitary napkins. I searched the internet for wholesale dealers and Jinoj’s name popped up. Jinoj K is CEO of Wager India, and Founder and Vice President of Centre for Hygiene Research and Development (CHRD).

When I dialled his number, I was expecting to talk to one of those distributors who just pushed products to retailers. But Jinoj spoke with so much conviction and insight about the subject that I knew he was more than a distributor. Finally, we met up in Kochi this week to have a happy menstrual chat.

Now 31, Jinoj began to research menstruation at the age of 24 after quitting his cushy marketing job with a media company. The decision was inspired by a 2010 Neilsen Report which revealed that less than 10% of Indian women used sanitary napkins. It was an eye-opener for the entrepreneur and business man in him and he was excited by the potential market opportunity.

He recalls how his friends ridiculed him by making sexist jokes and how his family felt embarrassed when someone asked what he was up to. But what started as a business idea soon became a passion turned commitment and a responsibility towards society.

For two years, Jinoj travelled extensively across India. “In rural areas, many do not know what a pad is and how to use it. They still resort to rags, ash and mud in low income communities. Some studies suggest that the traditional methods are better off compared to low quality napkins used by urban women. For instance, the quality of napkin depends on its air permeability, water absorption and ability to check bacterial multiplication. Today, most napkins are made of synthetic material which does not have the above properties. In view of social and cultural ostracism, physical discomfort and in the interest of hygiene, pads of good quality at affordable prices are critical for a healthy India,” says Jinoj.

Urban women are still unaware of how to use a sanitary napkin. For instance, how many of us know that we have to wash/ sanitise hands before changing a pad? Or that the pad has to be changed once in three hours even if it is just one drop of blood. Women are prone to a lot of bacteria and viruses during periods that puts them at risk of cervical cancer and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Or that soap should be avoided during period days as soaps are alkaline and you need to resort to acidic solvents such as PH wash or plain hot water. How many of us actually check the expiry date in our hurry to get out of the shop with napkins to avoid prolonged embarrassment. And did you ever know that perfumed napkins are a big NO NO and could lead to cancer?

After setting up his own napkin manufacturing plants in Delhi, Nasik and Kerala and having distributed to almost all top brands on OEM basis, Jinoj has gone on to consult for organisations focussing on health and hygiene. He is the Founder and Vice Chairman of Centre for Hygiene Research and Development (CHRD) which focuses on research, awareness and training programmes with local partnership under the name Project Ritu.

Under Project Ritu, Jinoj invented possibly the first compact portable vending machine that can be deployed in bathrooms of government schools. It is deployed in over 600 schools in Kerala. “According to a survey, almost 36% girls in India do not attend schools during their period. Reasons vary from menstrual pain and discomfort to apprehension and psychological barriers. Even women in many corporate offices still carry pads wrapped in envelopes and newspapers and push them into skirts or blouses as it is still associated with shame and stigma.” Jinoj says that having napkins in the privacy of bathrooms has dramatically increased the confidence level, attendance and active participation of girls in regular activities during their period.

One challenge Jinoj faced was that the napkins were not refilled on time and many machines became showpieces. Secondly, after initial resistance, parents started encouraging girls to use the vending machine. But most often, kids will save that money to buy stationery or cosmetics without using that money to change the pads. As a workaround, Jinoj came up with “Anytime, Anywhere Napkins” prepaid cards which could ensure that money spent by parents on prepaid cards is used only to buy pads. Authorities can also keep track of the number of pads used and check whether the system is working. Each card costs around Rs 360 and it dispenses around 80 cards in a year.

Jinoj has also designed a portable and instant used-napkin incinerator which burns napkins ensuring zero bacteria from used pads. He is also preparing to launch the first ever women’s Menstrual Kit which will include hygiene wash, napkin, a testing kit to test vaginal infection, vaginal patch for removing period-related pain and discomfort.

Currently, Jinoj is excited about his dream project which will be fully owned and operated by Kudumbashree: A napkin manufacturing unit – in which Kudumbashree members would have equity – with equipment which can manufacture about 600 good quality napkins per minute which roughly translates to 1.5 lakh napkins a day.

In the context of World Menstrual Hygiene Day, what does he have to say, I ask him. “Make menstruation a family room discussion. Discuss openly with your sons and daughters as it is as normal and holy as pregnancy and motherhood itself. He also has a request to ad makers: “Let’s stop “whisper”ing. Can any ad agency work with brands to develop an ad that talks about menstruation from a man’s viewpoint?”

Let us join Vinoj in making Menstruation a matter of everyone, everywhere.

I cannot but end with this very insightful thought from Gloria Steinem, U.S. feminist writer, editor in “If Men Could Menstruate,” in Ms. (Oct 1978)

“If men could menstruate...clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much....Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammed Ali's Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields - 'For Those Light Bachelor Days."

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute