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Meet the pad women of Pudukottai

Time: 2019-06-24 04:06cheongsam dress Click:

Express News Service

CHENNAI: It was a hot summer afternoon in 1992 in Keeranur, Pudukottai. A young woman had come to the local bank to apply for loan. But she was constantly squirming on her seat. Kannaghi Chandrashekhar, the bank manager, asked her the reason for her discomfort. The woman said she was ill at ease because she was using cloth instead of a sanitary napkin. She was struggling. 

This conversation was the turning point of Chandrashekhar’s life. She undertook a survey in 77 villages in Tamil Nadu about menstrual hygiene in 1992. The results were shocking. Most of the women used old, dirty pieces of cloth as pads and did not wash them properly. In urban areas, women had a problem of where to dispose the pads. They would often dump it in the sewage, making it very dirty.

Called the ‘Pioneer in Menstrual Hygiene’ by UNICEF, Kannaghi started a self-help group in 1998 with three napkin production units in Pudukottai. The first unit was set up in Mullai Nagar. She also set up an NGO, WOMAN, in 1998. The groups produced and sold napkins called ‘Woman Care’. “I just show them the method to make napkins and help them till they achieve profits. After that, they manage the expenses and buy the equipment themselves,” says Kannaghi.

Field visit
On the highway to Pudukottai, a narrow mud road, next to a wedding hall, leads you to this sanitary napkin manufacturing unit. The unit is run by women, for women and of women. It’s 12 pm when we reach the unit. Ten women, wearing masks and gowns, are busy at work. We break into a sweat as soon as we enter the unit. But the women work happily for six hours in the sweltering heat. 

The first process in making a napkin involves grinding the wood pulp. Once the proper consistency is achieved, 10 grams are measured and placed in the pressing machine. The wood pulp is then pressed along with a blue sheet. After pressing, the sides are sealed, sticker is put on the bottom, and packed. It takes two minutes to make a pad. This unit makes regular pads, ones with wings and maternity pads. They have secured a contract of 4,500 packets of maternity pads from the Tamil Nadu government. They also contributed one lakh pads during the floods in Chennai in 2015 and during the floods in Kerala in 2018. These women want to create a difference for all the women in surrounding villages.

Personal stories
Each woman has a story to tell. They have all wrested through great difficulty to be where they are now. Take 54-year-old Vasantha, for example. She joined WOMAN in 1998. What her husband earned wasn’t enough. She decided to take matters in her own hands. She has made enough for her children to study BSc and Engineering. She distributed pads to women in Chennai during the floods.

It was not an easy path for these ladies. “Marketing these pads was not easy 20 years back. We used to struggle to sell a single pad. Today, the situation is better,” says 62-year-old Susheela, a recipient of an award for menstrual hygiene from an NGO called SCOPE. Fifty-year-old Muthukanna was able to get her daughter educated and married by working at this unit. Her alcoholic husband spent all his money at the local TASMACs. 

Apart from making pads, these women practice biodegradable waste management too. They spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and sanitary napkins at schools and colleges in the nearby villages. This small unit in Keeranur is a place where dreams have come true and problems seem to fade away. 

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