India is increasingly becoming the shimmering face of a global superpower. But, beyond this glittering image lies a more distressed, realistic one, which represents the majority of rural and tribal population who combat poverty each day and grapple for basic survival needs. The condition of women is even worse there. With negligible access to safe sanitary pads, women resort to using rags or other unsafe materials and thus poor menstrual protection becomes a grave concern. Reports say that adolescent girls in backward regions miss about 5 days of school in a month because of poor menstrual protection and around 23% of these girls drop out of school after they start menstruating.
Observing menstrual protection as a fundamental need and right for every women, especially those from a dejected background, Kristin Kagetsu, Amrita Saigal, Grace Kane, Ashutosh Kumar and Zachary Rose have started an organization called ‘Saathi Pads’ to provide low cost, completely eco-friendly sanitary pads to women. Alarmed by the plight of women, the MIT graduates, Amrita and Kristin, decided to create and distribute sanitary pads that were primarily made out of waste banana fibres (95%) and biodegradable plant-based plastics (5%).“We wanted to provide low cost sanitary pads but not without addressing the entire life cycle of the product, which is why we wanted to make affordable and environment-friendly sanitary pads,” says Kristin.
‘Saathi’ aims to make rural women economically independent by providing ‘Saathi’ machines and basic raw materials to groups of women, who can then manufacture and sell eco-friendly pads at low cost in their communities. This micro enterprise model is beneficial in several ways as:
1. It involves the factor of trust between both the buyer and the seller
2. It makes entrepreneurs out of rural women
3. It is entirely environment-friendly
4. It creates awareness amongst women about the importance of menstrual hygiene and health, something girls often have an inherent fear to communicate about.
The core element of the Saathi Pads is banana fibre, which is a waste product for banana farmers. Procuring these from the banana plantations in Ahmedabad, ‘Saathi’ is also providing additional income to farmers.
Kristin, born and brought up in New York, had earlier worked in India in 2012 with an NGO and had later returned to the US. But deep down she knew she aspired to work towards impacting people’s lives in India, for the better. With ‘Saathi’, she combined her goal of social upliftment and her interest in sustainable product development, also addressing an issue which is a deep social stigma in India.
Thus, by making the best use of the available natural resources to manufacture entirely eco-friendly sanitary pads and at the same time empowering dejected and distressed women in rural areas, Saathi is indeed arising as an agent of change. It can be termed as a true SAATHI for thousands across rural and tribal India.
APARNA SHASTRI & KRITIKA VIDYARTHI | TOC
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