MUMBAI, India – In a small room in India’s commercial capital, Sunita was busy making low-cost sanitary napkins on Friday for nonprofit Myna Mahila Foundation, one of the charities Britain’s Prince Harry and his bride Meghan Markle had asked guests to donate to.
The foundation aims to empower women in Mumbai’s urban slums about menstrual hygiene and provide them access to affordable sanitary pads through its in-house low-cost brand called Myna.
“We founded the organization in 2015 to empower women to speak about issues they’re most afraid to discuss aloud (...) we identified that in India, especially in slums and rural areas, 320 million women don’t use sanitary pads,” Myna Mahila founder Suhani Jalota told EFE.
“We are trying to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and its management in local communities in slums through women from those communities, providing them with jobs, going door-to-door talking about these issues, educating women and giving them the appropriate products,” she added.
Menstrual hygiene, for e.g., is directly related to health and problems such as urinary infections and bacterial vaginosis, Jalota said.
But talking about menstruation continues to be a taboo in India and women prefer using homemade cloth pads as opposed to branded ones, compromising on hygiene.
Sunita is one among the millions of Indian women, for whom menstruation has been an uncomfortable experience owing to itching and rashes from homemade cloth pads she was taught to use by her women relatives.
But she is trying to change that by working with the foundation and raising awareness among women to stop using unhygienic cloth pads.
On most days, she can be found, with six other women, mixing UPM cellulose with gel sheets to create a sponge that will be weighed, shaped, pressed, wrapped, sealed with an adhesive and finally sterilized for 20 minutes.
Kitted out in head caps and masks, Sunita and her co-workers produce between 1,000-2,000 pads per day, Deborah Das, one of the workers at the foundation, told EFE.
When not in the factory, Sunita and her colleagues join a team of 50 other salespeople and go door-to-door selling the product and educating people about the importance of using sanitary pads.
But it is not an easy job as they are often dismissed as beggars or trash collectors and many women excuse themselves from buying saying they do not have the money although the foundation sells these sanitary pads at a very affordable price of Rs.30 ($0.44), which is often further reduced depending on the financial situation of the women, Das said.
However, that has changed recently, after the foundation and its work grabbed headlines following the much-hyped royal wedding.
“Earlier, people did not know about Myna, but now we have become famous in the area because of the royal wedding and people have started listening to us about the benefits of the sanitary pads and are not scared of using them anymore,” said Das, who was one of the guests at the royal wedding.