Two years ago, when Priyanka Jain would wrap up a workshop, the startled faces and sullen expressions would prompt her to quickly pack the samples and make a dash for the door. These days, when she winds up, Jain is surrounded by women, and sometimes men, who want to know more about cloth pads and menstrual cups.
Jain, a 31-year-old Delhi-based architect, is on a mission: spread awareness about the environmental burden that disposable sanitary napkins impose, and the alternatives. Independent research worldwide into the correlation between the environment and sanitary napkins show that an average woman goes through around 150 kg of pads and tampons in her lifetime. It also shows that the use of plastic liners in pads, and the numbers in which these pads are used, makes this a “real environmental concern”.
In 2000, an MCS Beachwatch Survey showed that more than 2 billion sanitary items are flushed down toilets in the UK every year, accounting for 6.5 per cent of all sewage-related debris found on its beaches. Jain, however, did not start out with this information. All she knew, as an undergraduate student in London in 2006, was that she didn’t want to stop swimming during menstruation.
“I liked swimming and stopping during my periods irritated me so I started looking up options on the Internet. I came across tampons and menstrual cups. I zeroed in on menstrual cups, which are reusable cups that collect menstrual blood and can be emptied periodically. It was a one-time investment that made sense to me. It was later that I started thinking about the environmental impact,” says Jain, who runs an online portal called Hygiene and You, which talks about menstrual health, myth-busting, and alternatives for disposal pads.
“It was a big taboo, even in UK. I never told anyone except my mother, who was very concerned about my choice,” says Jain. While it was personal choice that drove her to use a menstrual cup, Jain was jolted to action when she saw a street dog tear into a used sanitary napkin near her home in Delhi.
“I started out with a blog to answer questions and tell people about alternatives to disposable pads. People had so many questions but most of them were the same: are menstrual cups safe, don’t reusable cloth pads cause infections? The most common was: how does one use a menstrual cup? I then decided to post a video on this,” says Jain. Today, she has a YouTube channel where videos are available in English, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil — some of them have up to 80,000 views.
Jain started conducting workshops, too, after finding “like-minded people” through her blogs. “I would earlier reach out to people to hold workshops and talks. With growing interest in the topic, people soon started approaching me,” says Jain.
In 2015, Jain held two workshops. In 2016, she says, the number rose to eight. This year, she has already conducted 15 workshops, with 20-40 participants in each. “There have been a few workshops where the number of participants was around 200,” says Jain.
“For anyone who is interested in protecting the environment while being healthy, workshops like these are a must. Also, the fact that you can have a conversation about a topic like menstruation is great and helps dispel many myths,” says Taruni Kumar, a 26-year-old communications professional from Delhi who attended one of Jain’s workshops this year.
“When I first started the blog and workshops, I realised that information about menstruation is shockingly poor and sometimes misleading. Once, we met a girl who believed that when she would get her periods, the blood will be blue because of the advertisements she had seen on TV,” says Jain.