68% of rural women cannot afford sanitary napkins says global information and measurement company AC Nielsen according to a recent study.
In such cases when women cannot afford sanitary pads they resort to using cloth pieces or nothing and this according to gynecologists causes infections leading to cervical cancer.
GOONJ is a non-profit organisation based in New Delhi that decided to act on this issue and started a movement of making sanitary pads out of waste cloth for the rural women.
What is GOONJ?
GOONJ is an NGO that started in the year 1999 by director Anshu Gupta who started it in New Delhi. Their only aim is to treat "cloth" as something more powerful than just a charitable object.
What is the central aim of GOONJ?
GOONJ aims at using underutilized cloth as a powerful tool for a social change. They use this cloth is used as an affordable, clean and easy to use napkins for rural women. They aim at distributing it to maximum women to prevent spread of diseases.
What urged GOONJ to start this specific movement?
In a special interview with DNA, Mr Arvind who has been with GOONJ since its inception said that when GOONJ workers were travelling across interiors of rural India, they noticed that ordinary cloth is commonly used as sanitary pads as market products are either too costly or are absent in rural areas. Also when in the interiors people do not have cloth to cover their bodies it was impossible to afford something for their monthly menstrual cycle. This is what urged them to start off this movement.
"Everyone starts movements for malnutrition and the girl child, but we thought women's hygiene and sanitation is something which had to be tackled. This is a subject of taboo we thought of breaking it," said Arvind.
Instances that made GOONJ start off the movement immediately
Shikoabad is a small village in Uttar Pradesh where a woman of 42 years died because she used a blouse piece as a sanitary napkin. She died of tetanus when the metal hook of the blouse entered her body.
When GOONJ workers went to Dharavi to distribute cloth, they saw cloth pieces tainted with blood being hung on clothing lines inside the small dingy homes. The women there told them that they use the same cloth without washing them.
What was the biggest hurdle that they faced in the process?
The biggest hurdle was to change the mindset of the people. Since, it is a delicate and neglected issue, it was and is still not well received by even urban, educated people, so women in the interiors shy away from it.
How does GOONJ tackle this hostile reaction?
GOONJ tries to break the ice by conducting workshops in many rural schools and villages. During these workshops they connect with the people, make them feel comfortable and discuss with them the benefits of using a sanitary napkin. They also make them well aware about the infections and diseases a normal cloth can cause in a woman.
A GOONJ worker said, “The women are hesitant at first, and shy away but in course of time they did come around and did respond to the workshops.”
How does GOONJ spread its work?
GOONJ organizes extensive meetings and personally go door to door ensuring that villages have their hygiene levels in place. They make sanitary pads available for women by collecting old waste cloth from cities. They organize workshops even in urban areas and have opened up drop boxes in different parts of the city where people can conveniently go and donate clothing.
What is the process of making the sanitary pad?
GOONJ collects the donated clothes, then segregates these clothes as per texture as only cotton serves the purpose. However, the rest of the cloth is not discarded. The cotton clothes are soaked , washed and dried and are sent under a metal detector to remove hooks or buttons. Then the clothes are ironed to remove moisture and are cut into standard sizes.
Are there any success stories that they can boast about?
Sahiba is a young girl from Muzaffarnagar, UP. She is like any other girl, no different from anyone and yet always suffered just because of shortage of cloth. She came from a family where they didn’t even have clothes to cover their body so borrowing cloth for her menses was impossible.
When GOONJ came with sanitary pads at a value of just Rs 2, it was a wonderful moment for Sahiba. She says, “I thank GOONJ for returning my izzad(dignity).”
Shalu, from Bihar, used to ask her friends to give her sanitary pads, but they would refuse. Her parents used to give her a Terrycloth or cushion cover to use. “I used to pray to God. I wanted my periods to stop forever," she told the GOONJ team. She also said that because of this she refrained from going to school on the days of her cycle. Now, she is happy and content and all these miseries have been put to rest.
GOONJ has spread its movement to to 21 states in 14 years. They were internationally awarded for this movement by the World Bank.