The lack of awareness about menstruation among Indian women has always rankled Deane de Menezes. The taboo around the subject has relegated menstruation to the realm of whispers and even when it is discussed, she says, the talk misses the bigger picture – the environment.
“The things we take for granted,” Menezes said, “are so often not accessible to others around us.”
So the 22-year-old research associate at the international analytical company CRISIL decided to do something about it. With funds from CRISIL Foundation, she started Red is the New Green, a project that is installing sanitary napkin dispensers and incinerators in Mumbai’s schools and create awareness of hygienic practices during menstruation.
One study in 2014 found 50% of girls in India had no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. According to Arundati Muralidharan of WaterAid India, 88% girls and women who menstruate use unsafe materials, and 70% mothers think periods are dirty.
Rather than focusing only on providing easily accessible sanitary napkins, Menezes also worries about the waste generated.
“Every day, rag pickers are exposed to infections and other health hazards when handling feminine hygiene discards,” Menezes explained. “I’ve spoken to garbage men who have told me stories about how they have to segregate the waste and touch pads with their bare hands.”
According to periodofchange, a campaign that seeks safe, hygienic and sustainable menstrual hygiene products, “An average woman throws away about 150kg of mostly non-biodegradable absorbents every year.”
Through her project, Menezes aims to introduce schoolgirls to alternative methods of disposing sanitary napkins and help them do their bit for the environment. With funding from CRISIL, she is working to install vending machines and incinerators in the Auxilium Convent High School Wadala, an eastern suburb of Mumbai. The vending machines and incinerators will also be installed in the school's branch in Bandra's Pali Hill, Bandra. “Other than that, we would like to give the girls a small pouch to keep their pads in a clean and safe manner," she said.
Menezes has already conducted a session at the all girls’ school and spoken to the students from Class 7 to Class 10 about the importance of maintaining proper hygiene. The vending machine and incinerator will be up by June 17.
May 28 is being observed around the world as Menstrual Hygiene Day.
All images courtesy Deane de Menezes.