Myths, paired with silence, affect women’s health critically. According to the Ministry of Health, nearly 120 million menstruating adolescents in India experience menstrual dysfunctions that affect their normal life.
World Menstrual Hygiene Day: This is 2021 but still an issue as important as menstrual hygiene is considered a taboo. There is a lot of misinformation that is still attached to menstruation. People still talk about the issue in a hushed tone which leads to complicated health issues. The issues related to menstrual hygiene are prevalent in all the sections of the society; rich or poor, educated or illiterate, urban or rural. Lack of last mile delivery of sanitation services and medical support is one of the primary reasons for this. In conversation with Financial Express Online Deep Bajaj, CEO and Co-Founder of Sirona Hygiene talks about the healthy menstrual hygiene practices, stigma around menstruation and ways to limit menstruation-related problems. Excerpts:
What are the challenges you faced to break the taboo around menstrual hygiene in India?
Dealing with menstrual hygiene issues comes with a lot of challenges. The problem almost always starts with misinformation about the female body and myths around menstruation.
Most women are surrounded by a set of taboos passed over from generations, which can make it difficult for them to openly talk about any intimate and menstrual issues they face or readily adopt a better period solution.
Myths, paired with silence, affect women’s health critically. According to the Ministry of Health, nearly 120 million menstruating adolescents in India experience menstrual dysfunctions that affect their normal life. Around 60 thousand women die due to cervical cancer every year, two-thirds of which due to poor menstrual hygiene. Other health problems are anaemia, irregular period cycle, infections, and psychological problems such as anxiety, embarrassment, and shame.
Even as more and more women have started using hygienic solutions like disposable sanitary pads, it has brought to fore another issue: environment pollution by 44,125 kilos of non-biodegradable menstrual waste annually.
Though there is a solution (menstrual cup) to keep sanitary-waste laden landfills in check, it is seen with suspicion for its “threat to virginity”, again a myth.
Generations of girls and boys need to be educated to enable them to distinguish between truth and myth. The world has to acknowledge that menstruation doesn’t make one impure and inserting a menstrual cup has nothing to do with “virginity”; in fact virginity is itself a social construct and attracts unnecessary attention. What needs attention is physical, mental and emotional health.
What steps should one take to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene?
Today, the channels of communication are more than ever, which can enable multiple possibilities to spread awareness. Taking into consideration the context of the audience and the resources available, one can use the right combination of these channels to influence people positively. Drawing from Sirona’s experience, here are some things one can do to spread awareness:
Education and awareness drive through physical or online modes on healthy menstrual practices and the benefits of usage of menstrual cups.
Training (physical or online) on the usage of menstrual cups.
Workshops to spread awareness of menstrual hygiene solutions and products.
Counselling sessions for women to deal with societal pressure and taboo.
Menstrual hygiene and personal safety products distribution drives for the underprivileged
Feedback and follow-up sessions conducted to gather the user’s feedback on satisfactory usage & comfort and provide help for any psychological issues.
How is Sirona Hygiene trying to make a difference in the FemTech market?
Sirona Hygiene is solving those feminine intimate hygiene issues that remain largely unaddressed in the country. In spite of a wide range of products available in the Fem Tech market in the country, there were not many solutions that met critical intimate hygiene needs of women. Sirona is working to bridge this gap with its innovative problem-solving products. One of these is PeeBuddy that has given women freedom to stand and pee so that they can go places without worrying about dirty toilets. Another is the Sirona Cup that is solving women’s leakage, rash and sanitary waste concerns and making life easier for thousands of women.
What initiative has Sirona Hygiene taken to create awareness about menstrual hygiene in India?
We, at Sirona Hygiene, are trying to devise sustainable ways to promote menstrual management. Though over 500,000 women have already moved to Sirona cups, making us the highest menstrual cups in the country, we are working to influence at least 1 million women to switch from traditional menstruation sanitary solutions to menstrual cups, in the next five years. Our projects include distribution of menstrual cups, hygiene kits, intimate wash, and gift boxes, to educate women on living a healthy menstrual cycle and reducing the impact of menstrual waste on the environment. We have also conducted Menstrual Cup Training and initiated the Green Menstrual Pledge of ‘Buy One, Give One’.
Some of these are as follows:
Cup of Life
This extensive month-long campaign was started with an awareness rally at Baruch where 319 Sirona’s menstrual cups were distributed. Followed by a health awareness camp in Patna, Jamshedpur, slums of Pune and IIBM University.
In association with Women’s Club Kharadi, menstrual cup training and distribution was done for PMC workers on Women’s day, which was well supported by Mrs Usha Bajpai, head of National Mahilamorcha.
Women’s day was celebrated with the Rotary Club and Rotaract Club of Pune with hon’ble custodians of law and law enforcement officers from The Shivaji District Court. Rotary Club of Chennai also organized a session on eco-friendly menstrual practices for 100 policewomen and distributed Sirona’s menstrual cups. 1000+ menstrual cups were distributed and the campaign is ongoing.
To spread awareness on menstrual hygiene, the Rotary Club of Bangalore in collaboration with the Sirona Hygiene Foundation distributed 2500 menstrual cups to Policewomen in Bangalore and also gave a session on healthy menstrual hygiene and the benefits of menstrual cups to society and the environment.
We also make economical, safe, and environmentally sustainable menstrual management accessible to commercial sex workers with the help of NGO groups. Started in October 2018 as the first step of Sirona towards its CSR, the project aims to make GB road completely ‘Pad Free’ by 2025, thereby saving the sex workers from infections, financial strain and building a sustainable environment.
As the health workers must wear the PPE kits throughout their job, it becomes difficult for them to change sanitary pads or tampons, because of single usage life of PPE kits. To address this problem, the Sirona Hygiene Foundation contributed in spreading awareness and distribution of 35 menstrual cups to frontline health workers with a personalized message thanking them for their hard work during these dire times. Regular feedback is being taken to solve their issues and help them switch.
Total Impact of our initiatives:
Total women educated on menstrual hygiene: 10000+
Number of pads / tampons saved: 2,40,00,000
Indirect monetary aid to women: 169250000
The beneficiaries of our initiatives were:
Underprivileged women living in slums in major cities and rural area.
School going children, their parents, and teachers.
Frontline health workers and security forces
Children living in welfare homes
Awareness and education for people from all walks of life
How has the demand for hygiene and sanitation products been in the pandemic
The pandemic has without doubt reset people’s focus on hygiene and sanitation. To meet their needs, we have scaled up our production operations and even introduced multiple products under BodyGuard, our family wellness and protection range. Some of these are chlorine tablets, sanitizing wipes, multi-use disinfectant spray etc.
Face masks, hand washes, sanitizers, floor and toilet cleaners, soaps, immunity boosters have witnessed a significant surge in demand. This holds true for both rural and urban households as the consciousness of maintaining hygiene has increased.
Impacts of COVID-19 on Menstrual Health and Hygiene
In a list of critical concerns facing the world, periods have always been on the back burner. Since the onset of the pandemic, the struggle to manage periods has taken a difficult turn for women, particularly underprivileged women. Last year we witnessed disruption in the supply chain, which impacted the accessibility of period supplies across the country.
Even as the supplies have stabilised, soaring unemployment and rising cost of living has kept women from economically weaker sections from spending on period products. Menstrual healthcare and emergencies have been largely inaccessible due to hospitals being preoccupied with Covid-19 patients. Because of this there was a 500% spike in teleconsultation in India, 80% of which from first-time users, with 33% gynaecology-related and period-related concerns.
Though to immediately meet their menstrual hygiene needs, Sirona has been conducting free pad distribution drives, the company has also been helping women adopt menstrual cups. Cups contain flow for up to 8 hours, are eco-friendly and most importantly economical in the long run. More women, particularly frontline workers like doctors and police personnel are adopting cups for they are proving ideal in coping with the pandemic.
The vision and future plan
Sirona envisions breaking the stigma around menstrual hygiene and redefining femininity for modern times.
Since our inception, we have stressed on the importance of hygiene and thus offer products for women’s toilet hygiene concerns (PeeBuddy), intimate and menstrual hygiene concerns (Sirona) and family wellness (BodyGuard).
Since last year, we have been working extra hard to expand preventive hygiene range tailored as per people’s unique needs and will continue to work on it. In the future we are aiming to scale our operation and expand our team.