Health

Menstruating in India: Start-ups push for a hygiene revolution

Amrita Pai Writer

A startling majority of India’s women are suffering from poor menstrual hygiene. Here’s how start-ups are pushing for a hygiene revolution with technology.

While periods are part of womanhood, the subject itself remains taboo in India, discussed in hushed tones behind closed doors. The silence is taking its toll in the form of startling statistics. According to Mumbai-based start-up Saral Designs, 88 percent of women use unhygienic material such as newspapers, cloth and husk when menstruating; 70 percent of women suffer reproductive tract infections; and 23 percent of girls drop out of school when they start menstruating.

Saral Designs begins a hygiene revolution

Enter Saral Designs – a Mumbai-based company, which manufactures feminine hygiene products at low cost for women.

While MNCs in India offer a wide range of quality sanitary napkins, only middle to high-income earners, accounting just 12 to 13 per cent of 355 million women in India can afford these. Others either use poor quality sanitary napkins, or materials like newspapers or scrap cloth.

Saral Designs was co-founded by friends Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta. Mohan, a former investment banker, shared that she was moved by the unhygienic conditions women lived in in Dharavi, a Mumbai slum that she would pass on her way to work.

But it was only after hearing the real life accounts of some of these women before Mohan decided to do something about it.

“When it comes to poor people, you usually think of hunger or illness but not this. As a woman, how can you not think about it?” she said.

Today, Saral Designs manufactures affordable hygiene products for some of these women. The products are manufactured using a low-cost automated process through the aid of a design and technology team, offering Indian women a choice of sanitary napkins made from locally sourced and machine-weaved raw materials. The pads are washable, reusable and hygienic, costing just INR24 (US$0.40) for seven pieces.

One of Saral Design’s machines
One of Saral Design’s machines

Those5days will be a breeze, thanks to the World Wide Web

For Those5days.com, internet access is the way to bringing about better menstrual hygiene in the country.

Those5days.com is an online portal which offers a choice of pads, tampons, wipes and sanitizers from leading Indian and international brands, along with a range of menstruation kits from basic to luxury.

Growing up in a small, rural town called Kanpur, Those5days.com founder Kanika Upadhyay remembered facing problems trying to obtain her preferred brand of pads and tampons. This led her to conceive the company, which today, enables her to extend knowledge of sanitary hygiene back to her hometown.

“Our products are extremely simple and user-friendly. We also offer multiple payment options, an easy refund procedure and cover nearly 20,000 area PIN codes for delivery,” she shared. Those5days.com is also in the midst of creating a knowledge base to educate women on the importance of using a pad or tampon instead of cloth or rags.

Breaking traditional mind-sets however, is proving a challenge.

Vending machines for sanitary napkins are dotted in educational institutions in rural India.
Vending machines for sanitary napkins are dotted in educational institutions in rural India.

“Women want to try out tampons, but are not keen to spend money on themselves,” Upadhyay shared. She believes the answer lies in offering cost-effective alternatives by stocking products that cater to all price points. Meanwhile, she has been tackling the problem by sending her clients samples and relevant information.

Upadhyay is optimistic about future growth as more women become aware about the importance of menstrual hygiene. The Indian sanitary pads market meanwhile, is predicted to expand fivefold to US$3 billion by 2025.

“Over the next 10 years, we will see more growth for women’s sanitation. Product innovation – tampons, reusable cloth is happening and there’s a lot that can be done, especially when globally so many women undergo this for 40 years of their lives,” Upadhyay said.

It’s still early days, but the conversations have begun, and that’s where the real progress is.

 

 

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