India has a problem talking about menstruation. “That time of the month”, “my days”, “the rag”– the list of euphemisms never ends. But the silence around menstruation is only one of the problems. Many women in India still can’t afford to buy sanitary napkins or tampons. According to a recent study conducted by global marketing research company AC Nielsen, 68% of rural women in India use pieces of cloth, or other unhygienic options, which according to gynaecologists cause infections leading to cervical cancer.
In 1999, Anshu Gupta quit his corporate job to start Goonj, a non-profit organization that began to make low cost sanitary napkins out of waste cloth for rural women. Goonj volunteers would go door to door in 21 states to collect used and discarded clothes. Then, women workers employed in the slums would cut pieces out of them, stuff them with cotton, and sew up the edges to make alternative sanitary pads for rural women.
“It’s an innovative yet simple product, which also helps in spreading awareness on health and hygiene issues among rural women,” said Gupta. “Through this movement, we try to spread the idea of living with dignity.”
For his work at Goonj, Gupta has been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2015, one of the highest honours in Asia. The jury said Gupta has been recognised for "his creative vision in transforming the culture of giving in India, his enterprising leadership in treating cloth as a sustainable development.”