ERODE: Padman may have become a household name globally owing to his single-minded crusade to make sanitary napkins accessible to women across all range of the socio-economic spectrum.
However, in his own state are many villages, where neither Padman nor a sanitary napkin is known. This is an anomaly Rights Education and Development Center (READ) NGO has undertaken to set right.
In collaboration with women Self Help Groups (SHGs), READ set up ten pad-making units at ten villages at Sathyamangalam and Gobichettipalayam, TN Palayam blocks of Erode.
Now, these women have access to pads at Rs 3 per piece and Rs 30 per packet of ten pads. The added benefit of the initiative -- jobs for 100 women.
READ NGO Director Karuppusamy told TNIE, "Even today many women and young girls use cloths instead of sanitary napkins in tribal hamlets and villages in Erode. When we enquired about the reason, they pointed out two factors -- affordability and lack of awareness on the importance of using sanitary pads. So we decided to pool funds and develop a social enterprise model to manufacture sanitary napkins at a subsidised cost."
A few of them were inaugurated earlier this week, he added.
The NGO identified major places that require immediate intervention and did a pilot study to set up a pad manufacturing unit.
To make it more effective, the NGO collaborated with the local women self-help groups (SHGs) and directed them to take over the social enterprise.
There are ten members in each SHGs and the work is equally divided among them -- one group takes care of production and another does marketing. The units are registered under the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) under the brand name 'Feel Free'.
One member of an SHG at Polavakaliyampalam in Gobichettipayalam, Nirmala, said, "Our main motive is to make the women in our region aware of sanitary pads. We go to every house in the village, schools and colleges and talk to them about its significance. We do not just sell the pads but also teach them everything from using them, the time period for which one pad can be used to the disposing methods."
On an average one unit produces up to 200 pads a day. The units are set up on a 10*12 sq ft area and it cost Rs 4,20,000 to set up one unit. The machines were sourced from Uttarkhand.
"Since it is an automatic machine, work becomes easy and quick. We need to place the cotton tissue sheets in the machine, which converts them into a series of pads. Thereafter, we cut it separately and do the packaging for sales. The organic winged napkins are made of cloth, wood-pulp cotton and they are also sterilized using ultraviolet radiation before packaging," Nirmala added.
This model not only made sanitary pads affordable and available to the women in villages but also provided jobs to 100 women SHG members.
The members said that they would bear the electricity bill and other miscellaneous expenses and share the profits. According to one of the users, Naveena, a college student, the sanitary pads are comfortable to use, as they are free of any chemicals and also available at an affordable price.