Japanese Woman’s Spinning Pad Dryer Helps Send Menstruating Teenage Girls Back To School In Africa & Asia

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While cloth pads are gaining popularity among environmentally conscious urban users, most Indian women with access to menstrual hygiene still opt for sanitary napkins because of its convenience and hassle-free disposal. Though organic, reusable and chemical-free, many women shy away from using cloth pads since washing and reusing a dirty, used pad is either frowned upon with disgust or avoided due to the fast-paced lifestyle.

The story is almost entirely different if we look at the women from a lesser privileged background in developing countries. For them, cloth pads don’t come in fresh, fragrant cotton fabrics with quirky patterns, colours or motifs, and sanitary napkins are a luxury outright. Mostly they settle for discarded bits and pieces of clothes and unclean rags, owing to the taboo of being ‘impure’ during menstruation.

No one has ever become poor by giving
-Anne Frank

If men see these menstrual rags being dried in the sun, they would lose their sight. This is a very popular belief prevailing in hinterlands across India. Or if one considers the African nation of Niger, where village women go to clean and dry their rags only at households where there is no male member. Such stigma leads to the rags being cleaned & dried in secrecy in some dingy corner, which causes bacterial overgrowth in the objects that demand utmost hygiene.

Mariko Higaki Iwai’s solution – Flo

The issues are endless and difficult to eradicate in a whisk, due to the age-old prejudices, but Japanese design student Mariko Higaki Iwai seems to have found a near-perfect solution. Her simple yet lifesaving innovation Flo is a menstrual hygiene kit that might save thousands of young girls from dropping out of school after getting their periods. Aside from having a compact pouch that enables young girls to carry pads (both clean and dirty ones) inside their skirts without having to worry about stains, the most intriguing component of Flo is perhaps the spinning dryer that dries the pads fast with less water, less energy, less time and of course, much lesser mess.

The innovation has bagged many international awards since it was debuted in 2014.

It is specifically designed for women from disadvantaged families surviving on less than Rs 86 a day. In an interview with Fast Company, Iwai revealed, “There are people who are already making reusable pads and doing great stuff. There was no use for us to make a better pad.” That is why her team’s focus was on developing a low-cost, easily portable menstrual kit which lets the girls dry their cloth pads faster and in relative privacy. An outer cloth cover hides the washed pads inside the dryer basket once it is left outside for drying in the sun.

About Flo

A waistbelt with two pouches enables girls to carry both their used and fresh pads to school and back, hiding it under their skirt. The zip lock system prevents any leakage of fluid or odour from the used pads.

Flo Menstrual Hygiene Kit

A single Flo kit costs around INR 207 and can be used for a prolonged period. As of now, commercial marketing and distribution of the kit have been started by global non-profit foundations in developing countries.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

My Story: “It Took Me Over A Year To Switch To Menstrual Cup & I Recommend It For Every Woman & Girl”

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“To say that gender disparity is a critical issue in our country would be an understatement. Women and girls comprise half the nation’s population and yet they are the ones who are continuously being marginalised in the areas of health, education and livelihood.

In our normal lives, the relationship between women and their periods has multiple shades. I was 13 when I first got my periods. My grandmother prohibited me from entering the kitchen, gave me separate utensils to eat in and forbade me from going to the temples or near the holy idols.

During my hostel days in college, girls shared various hysterical period stories. Apparently, it was a tradition in Odisha to give gifts to the girls when they first bled. At my first workplace, a colleague shared how she had to shower immediately after getting her period, no matter what time of the day and weather. Thankfully the city she is from, Kolkata was kind to her and almost had no winters.

Last year during my internship in Mumbai, I interacted with women from slums in Govandi who were fighting with the local representatives for the installation of a free-of-cost public toilet. They shared how they were forced to use the landfills during periods which resulted in diseases.

The cultural taboos, superstitions and myths associated with menstruation are not new, they are compounded by the restrictions imposed by society plus the huge void of information, misinterpretation and access. However, very little is being done to combat this problem, especially when the dignity and agency of women are at stake. According to a report by Dasra, there are over 355 million menstruating women and girls in India, but there are millions of women still has no access to a comfortable and hygienic menstrual health management.

In the last three years, I have seen numerous social enterprises and non-profits that are engaging women in self-help groups towards manufacturing sanitary napkins. With the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham on multiple forums, the movie ‘Padman’, the documentary ‘Period. End of Sentence’ and alike, the mainstream media have succeeded in highlighting the issue nationally. However, their myopic views seem to be missing a lot of aspects related to hygiene, economics and sustainability.

Speaking from experience of women around me, on an average a woman menstruates for 40 years and consumes around 4 Lakh worth of sanitary pads. According to a report by NDTV, only 50% of menstruating women have access to sanitary pads. Hence, around 125 million women are generating 113,000 ton of menstrual waste every year. If you are a woman, imagine the first pad you ever used as a teenager still existing on the planet. How does that make you feel?

While using sanitary pads most women dispose them off wrapped in plastic/paper bags, often with the other waste of the house. Given that sanitary pads are 90% plastic, it makes disposing of them even more difficult. In India, we don’t even have comprehensive and consistent waste segregation methods for our daily waste. Access to safe, secure and hygienic means to manage the menstrual waste is a far-fetched dream.

I met Sonal Jain, Co-Founder of Boondh Cups during my Jagriti Yatra in January 2017. She spoke to me about Boondh Cups, which is made with medical grade silicone, a material which doesn’t absorb toxins thereby making it more hygienic than other menstruation alternatives. One menstrual cup lasts for up to 10 years, also making it more cost-effective. This is where I found hope – to think about my body, my health and sustainability. It will be a year in June 2019 since I ‘cupverted’, after a lot of research on using the menstrual cup and with a lot of support from my friends.

Why did it take me over a year to take the plunge?

  1. The biggest reason was fear. I was afraid to put a foreign entity into a delicate part of my body.
  2. There were no women in my immediate circle who had even heard about this product, let alone using it.
  3. There was no strong urge to get over the comfort of using disposable pads. Environment and sustainability were not a priority.

What Changed?

  1. Since I had purchased the cup in a fit of inspiration, it was a constant reminder of investment which I wasn’t utilising.
  2. Once I started sharing my fear with women around me, I began to know of amazing women who had switched to a menstrual cup and were happy to have a conversation.
  3. The more research I did on the issue, I came across hard-hitting facts about the waste being generated, the challenges of people who were responsible for managing that waste (my waste) and the stark reality of unawareness in the privileged urban population of educated and liberal individuals.
  4. My roommate at ISDM and a couple of other batchmates had started using the cup and they were an immense support system during the entire process.

The past year has been extremely fulfilling, not only because I’m contributing less waste to the landfills by using an environment-friendly product, but also because I have begun understanding my own body and how taking care of it is my duty. This entire experience has also opened my mind to several other aspects of Menstrual Hygiene Management that are crucial to building a stronger ecosystem:

  • Creating awareness
  • Enabling access to products, services
  • Collaboration among organisations working in the space (urban and rural)
  • Policy focus on the issue
  • Availability of funding/investment

The issue at hand is a complex one, that requires strategic interventions and collective action at all levels. This will benefit not only women and girls but will impact all of us in the long run. Yes, periods are natural for women – the right to bleed in a safe and secure environment, with dignity. How each one of us is making this experience for women around us more acceptable, healthy, encouraging and filled with care will define the normality of its existence.

Given my story of making the switch and holding myself accountable to be the change, I have pledged to take action at all levels to create a systemic change towards the issue of sustainable menstruation.

If you’re someone who has a story to share about periods or want to have a conversation, please reach out – [email protected]

– Nitisha Pandey, Alumni ISDM (Indian School of Development Management)

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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