Reusable Menstrual Products
Why Make the Switch?
KUILAPPALAYAM, TAMIL NADU
Valli grew up in Kuilappalayam, a cashew growing village in Tamil Nadu which borders the international township Auroville. Valli has been a part of Eco Femme for the last two and half years. At Eco Femme, we love her warm smile, caring nature and how she truly lives by the famous quote “be the change you want to see in the world”.
What did you first use when you got your period?
I first used cloth when I got my period – my mama gave me cloth torn from an old cotton saree. Like a cloth pad, we were supposed re-use this and needed to soak it, wash it, dry it and fold it for the next month. I was young and too lazy so I used to bury it and tell my mum…
“…maybe the dog took it, I was drying it outside and it’s disappeared!”
I always worried the pieces of cloth would leak – especially because when we went to school there was no toilet to change, and we couldn’t talk about the topic of menstruation.
Later, I shifted to disposable pads. In fact, my first disposable pads were a gift from my brother’s friend because he liked me! It was the mid-90s and at that time disposable sanitary pads were just being introduced to the market and were more of a special luxury item. We used to bury the disposable pads when it got dark. I didn’t analyse the impact – at that age, you don’t think about these things. Later, I came to know more about the environmental impact of waste.
Why did you make the switch to cloth pads?
I learnt that there are reusable and recyclable items to replace single use items.
I thought… “I should play my part to save the earth.”
I started carrying my own cloth bags for shopping, instead of using plastic bags. Then I saw an Eco Femme poster with cloth pads on the back of a toilet door.
I started thinking about using them, but I thought they were too expensive. Later, I learnt that there are different prices depending on your circumstances. For example, for village women there is the Pad for Sisters program which provides pads at less cost. And so I made the switch to cloth pads!
Pad for Sisters is Eco Femme’s menstrual health education program for underprivileged women in India. Under this program, cloth pads are offered at affordable, subsidised prices.
What is your experience using cloth pads?
What have you learnt?
The first time I used an Eco Femme cloth pad it absorbed well. I felt more comfortable with them than the pieces of torn cloth because they have a leakproof layer.
With disposable pads, I used to get rashes – I even had to walk differently because it was so uncomfortable. With cloth pads, I no longer suffer from rashes.
The cloth pads also cost much less. I used to buy three packets of sanitary pads every month – about 200 rupees a month. Eco Femme pads last about 3 to 5 years and so it costs much less.
And surprisingly, with cloth pads all the blood comes off – they don’t stain! I remember that the pieces of cloth I used when I was a young girl would sometimes stain.
What do you think is the biggest barrier to people making the
The biggest barrier to making the switch to cloth pads is washing. More than the actual washing, it is having a private space to wash your pads.
If people don’t have a private space they might feel uncomfortable. If someone is in a joint family, where do you keep the bucket you soak the pads in? For me, I always felt very comfortable washing my own pad as I have a small outside place to hand wash my clothes. I am already cleaning, washing, mopping, working, looking after my daughter and husband… washing a cloth pad is 5 minute work, it is not a big deal!
When you start to use cloth pads, there is a small learning process, and in one or two uses you learn the tips and how to best use them. I learnt that after a few washes they become more absorbent, and that they work better with tighter underwear.
What would you say to someone thinking about making the
If you feel comfortable about your pads, then you feel more comfortable about your period.
My daughter and I don’t hide anything. Before I used to hide the disposable pads, but now our cloth pads are all over the house! I have taught my daughter and she washes her own pads. She is taking responsibility. We dry them outside.
I tell my husband – if people visit us, let them see and I will explain!
We have to save our environment – look anywhere and you can see the garbage dumped on the side of road.
It takes a disposable sanitary pad 800 years to break down.
At least, from our part we can take a step forward – the change starts with us. Slowly the change can spread; it will be with our daughters, our sisters, our friends, and then expand until everyone becomes aware.
Eco Femme is a women-led social enterprise based in Tamil Nadu, India that produces and sells washable cloth pads, provides menstrual health education and opens conversations on menstruation all along the way!
To learn more about our work visit https://ecofemme.org/.
Interviewee: Valli / Writer: Lauren Chockman