To Bleed with Dignity
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
“Menstruation is not a problem; poor menstrual hygiene is.”
— Anurag Chauhan
‘Period poverty’ seems to be a rising social issue in Sri Lanka that has a great negative impact on girls’ and women’s physical and psychological health. What is meant by period poverty is the lack of education about menstrual hygiene and poor access to sanitary napkins. There are communities in Sri Lanka that cannot afford to buy sanitary products and are not aware of the importance of menstrual hygiene. Due to poor knowledge and poverty many women use unhygienic products and wrong health practices during their menses, which leads to enormous physical health problems. The social stigma surrounding this natural biological process also adds to this issue.
How grave is period poverty in Sri Lanka?
The sanitary napkins available in local markets are not so affordable to those who are struggling to balance their daily needs. In such instances, girls and women are compelled to use cloths and reuse them. The use of cloths as sanitary napkins may lead to poor hygiene depending on the quality of the cloths that are being used and whether they are washed and dried properly. When they are not washed and dried properly before reusing, it causes bad health.
Considering all these, it is important that period poverty should be a concern when preparing and implementing Government policies. If it is not possible to give sanitary napkins for free, at least there should be high-quality ones for affordable prices. Also, it is important that we break the cultural misconceptions and taboos related to menses. As long as we hold on to these barriers and menses taboos, it is hard to eradicate period poverty.
Neglecting menstrual hygiene may result in many physical and psychological health complications that will affect not only women but also entire society.
In search of a solution
As the situation is such in Sri Lanka, The Arka Initiative, trying to find a solution for this, came up with a new project, ‘Adithi,’ which will manufacture low-cost sanitary pads locally.
To know more about the budding project, we contacted them.
Birth of Adithi
“Adithi was a response to addressing the lack of access to sanitary products in Sri Lanka,” said Founder/Director of The Arka Initiative, Manisha Dissanayake. “It was also a response to the need of changing cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation, and the desire to continue Arka’s ethos and vision of doing tangible and meaningful work at the grassroots.”
She further said that, by basing the first-of-its-kind project in a rural village in Sri Lanka and enabling women in these communities to produce sanitary products, they are able to address a critical need for more affordable sanitary products and also create ecosystems of empowered, vocal, and thriving women and girls.
“Adithi, therefore, provides immediate solutions, while also engendering long-term change,” said Dissanayake.
The pad manufacturing machine will be set up in Mathugama. When asked about how they will operate the machine, Product and Quality Management representative for Adhithi by The Arka Initiative, Sabreena Lahie said that only women will be employed in this programme and that they have already selected a group of six women and a woman supervisor for the production of the sanitary napkins. “They will be paid a generous daily wage.” She further added that all women will be given detailed training on how to carry out production.
“We have already set up training sessions with the Indian team who will be supplying us the machine and we have chemical engineers and technicians to help guide them through daily production as well,” said Lahie.
About the product
Lahie explained to us about the product, how it is made, and its quality.
“The pad is made up of three layers; the top sheet which is perforated to allow fluid to pass through (and prevent resurfacing) and the middle sheet that is made of a super absorbent layer that holds the fluid and prevents leaks. It does this by converting the fluid into a gel. The bottom layer is similar to the top layer, except it isn’t perforated. An adhesive is attached to the outside of the back sheet to secure the napkin to the undergarment.
When asked about the quality of Adithi pads, Lahie explained that Adithi pads will be registered by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), and all necessary testing procedures and quality control parameters will be followed. The pad itself has a super absorbent polymer that prevents any leaks. The adhesive secures its position on the undergarment. It is odourless and hygienic.
“These pads are unlike any other; they may be wafer-thin, but able to hold a heavy flow, making them comfortable yet effective.”
She further said that the process of manufacturing will be performed in two stages. The first stage is the production of the core of the napkin (which is the middle layer) and the second stage of manufacturing is gluing the middle layer onto the top and bottom sheet to produce the finished napkin. The Swachh machine used is semi-automatic and can produce 10 pads a minute.
Adithi sanitary napkins will be marketed within and out of Mathugama, said Project Management representative, Adithi by The Arka Initiative, Tiffany Hoohle.
“Our business model is focused on wholesale and direct sales to corporate entities who have a larger database of consumers who require the pad, and individual consumers respectively.”
We also asked them if Adithi will be expanded into other areas of the country or if they plan to set up more machines in other areas of the country as well. Answering our questions, Lahie said that their mission does not stop in Mathugama, and this is just the beginning.
“We have started fundraising to bring down more pad machines to Sri Lanka and they will be set up in other parts of the island. Phase Two of the project is to manufacture these machines locally with the help of young skill and talent.”
Empowering women economically
Lahie explained how Adithi intends to produce the most cost-effective pad with the highest quality standards in the island and at the same time the focus of Adithi goes beyond just manufacturing.
“We intend to create employment opportunities for women of low-income families who in turn will be economically empowered.”
Threats and challenges to Adithi…
Joining us next to talk about certain threats and challenges Adithi faces, is Communications representative, The Arka Initiative, Francesca Mudannayake.
“COVID-19 has already posed several delays in the process but we’re excited to get going. For the purposes of longevity, we need a continuous stream of funding and are grateful to portals such as daraz.lk for providing us a platform to raise funds.”
Mudannayake also said that so far they have had a great response from the public but they’d like to raise more to really see this project through and extend it to the rest of the country.
Adithi sends a message to the public
“Adithi means ‘freedom’ and ‘security’ and this is what we hope the project will come to mean for underserved communities in Sri Lanka,” said Dissanayake.
She said that the project has given them deep insight into the pervading issues pertaining to period poverty, as well as the ramifications of not addressing sexual and reproductive health needs. They believe that this project is timely and has the potential to become more than a few sanitary pads in the market.
“It is our hope that the rest of Sri Lanka too will lend its voice and support to this project so that we can collectively reach the underserved,” she concluded.
(Pix courtesy Arka Initiative)