Even as there is an increased focus on sustainable living by using eco-friendly methods in urban parts of the country, a group of women in Kerala's central district of Thrissur are making sustainable menstruation a reality in their own small way.
On a makeshift terrace room in a building in Peringavu in Thrissur, five women are hard at work, their hands operating the many machines that are set up in the room, with ease.
The women are members of the city-based NGO Kanika, and they come together - along with their other colleagues - to make eco-friendly, bio-degradable sanitary napkins. They produce at least 200 packets of "Soukhyam" (wellness) a month, all from the one-room production unit.
While Kanika has a 100-odd members, at least half of them are part of the sanitary napkin production unit.
And most of them are over the age of 50.
"We are done with our liabilities at this age. Our children have moved out and settled in other places and we are our own masters now. So we all get together, do whatever we are capable of in our own right," says Girija, one of the members of Kanika.
Another member, Rema, quickly joins in, "After all, sometimes we have to take time out for ourselves."
"Soukhyam" started in 2016 as one of the activities of the NGO Kanika. When Vasanthi Gopalan started Kanika five years ago, one thought acted as a driving force: "People think that old people are useless, but they are not. Through our work, we wanted to prove that we are indeed useful, that we can also positively contribute to the society," the 65-year-old says.
Over the years, the NGO has been carrying out a number of activities including distributing books and uniforms to schools, and funding the education of underprivileged students.
"Last year, someone suggested the possibility of making eco-friendly sanitary napkins. The kind of waste that is generated out of plastic napkins is alarming, and many women complain of infections after prolonged use. That's when we felt that it was indeed possible to make non-plastic, bio-degradable napkins," says Girija Kesavan, the general secretary of Kanika.
Through news reports, Vasanthi was familiar with the works of Coimbatore-based "pad man" Arunachalam Muruganantham, who had proved that making eco-friendly, low cost sanitary napkins was indeed a possibility.
In a matter of months, the members of the group called on Arunachalam, got the machines delivered to their unit in Thrissur and received training under him.
They delivered their first bunch of sanitary napkins on March 8 last year, on the occasion of International Women's Day.
The primary material used for the production of the sanitary napkins are wood pulp and gel cotton. The mixture goes through five layers of production, before they are wrapped and put in packets.
First, the wood pulp that comes in long sheets are chopped into small pieces. It is then ground along with gel cotton.
This mixture is then compressed into long strips, additional layers glued onto it and sealed with another layer of degradable material.
A strip of paper is then glued on to the back side of the napkin, which is then sterilized and put in packets. All the machines and the raw materials are sourced from Arunachalam's centre in Coimbatore.
The members work at the production unit in batches of five. There have been days when the members have made 123 cotton napkins, they say. Each packet that contains 10 napkins is sold at Rs 43.
Why not expand?
A year on, the members deliver 200 packets a month on an average. While more than 50 packets are sent to girls' homes in the district for free, the rest are used by the members themselves and sold to people they know.
Though they agree that there is immense commercial possibility in their activity, the members say that they will not approach any shops or marketing agencies to get their product sold.
"This is not meant as a profit-making business venture anyway. Itâ€™s all for the people, itâ€™s all for a good cause. Moreover, our freedom is dear to us. Here, we work according to our convenience and at our pace. Once it is commercialised, there will be unwanted pressure on us," Vasanthi explains.