Thousands of women stayed across the 47 relief camps put up under the Alappuzha municipality during the Kerala floods of 2018. The authorities, while dealing with the waste coming from the camps, had to decide what to do with the sacks of sanitary napkins used by the women there. They’d have to incinerate it or add it to the already-piled-up tonnes of plastic waste. That’s when they began thinking of alternatives for the future. Menstrual cups, spoken about in a few circles and discussed in whispers, came up as the solution they were looking for.
On Saturday, Minister Thomas Isaac inaugurated the Thinkal Menstrual Cup project in Alappuzha. 5,000 cups, funded by the CSR Initiative of Cola India Ltd, will be given away to women, free of charge. “We decided to call it Thinkal, the Malayalam word for moon, because in the old days, women looked at the moon to determine their menstrual cycles,” says Jahamgeer, municipal secretary, Alappuzha.
“We had at first thought of promoting cloth napkins but it will not be practical in a state like Kerala where it rains for six months a year and the washed clothes will not dry on time. When we thought of the idea of menstrual cups, it was difficult at first, because there were no branded ones, no companies making it here. The women using it were mostly depending on online marketing sites. Then we spoke to Hindustan Latex Ltd and they were ready to make the product. Cola India Ltd came forward to fund it through their CSR,”Jahamgeer adds.
The cups are now available at the front office of the Alappuzha municipality, and with the marriage registrar. Women can come there, register their names, provide their phone numbers and avail a cup. The numbers will be used to call the women later for feedback. Instructions on how to use the cup will also be provided.
“In addition, we are training the counsellors and Kudumbashree workers on using the cup and they will then be spreading awareness about it among other women,” Jahamgeer says.
The difference that the move can bring is huge, Jahamgeer says, giving the numbers. “A woman, on an average, uses nearly 160 sanitary napkins a year. A menstrual cup can be used for five or six years – replacing about 780 napkins. Think of the amount of plastic waste it would reduce, and the amount of money that can be saved. These 5,000 cups – if used by five thousand women – would itself save about Rs 40 lakh. For the same reason, sanitary napkin companies would not be too keen on producing menstrual cups. It would bring down the business.”
Menstrual cups were first used in the US in the 1930s. “It took so many years for it to be even discussed in India. Even now there are women using it, ordering it online, but are reluctant to admit it. There is also some skepticism about unmarried women using the product. So as of now, we are promoting it among married women.”