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.
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.
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.
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.