Menstrual Hygiene: A Fundamental Human right - Missing in India
Menstruation is a natural and healthy aspect of life. In the language of science, it is the shedding of the uterine lining that occurs each month. Menstruation may also be referred to as menses, a cycle, or a period. The menstrual blood, which is made up of both blood and tissue from the uterus, departs the body through the vagina after leaving the uterus.
This cycle starts when a girl enters adolescence (menarche), which generally occurs between the ages of 10 and 13 years old, and it can last until the end of her follicular phase (menopause), which typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. Around 26% of women worldwide, or about half of the female population, are of reproductive age. Most women menstruate for two to seven days on average each month. Despite the absurd taboos around it, every healthy woman experiences menstruation as a normal physiological function. Not everyone is aware of the health problems associated with this, despite the fact that every woman encounters it frequently.
Women who are menstruating need to adopt a good personal hygiene regime and should be more careful about the harmful toxins that they might be exposed to. A woman is more susceptible to illnesses that could be fatal during this period. So, menstruators should seek safe menstruation products that enable them to go about their everyday life without encountering physical restrictions.
Aastha Ahuja in her national family health survey reported that in India, sanitary napkins are used by 64.4% of women between the ages of 15 and 24; the cloth is used by 49.6%, locally produced napkins are used by 15%, and menstruation cups are used by just 0.3% of women in this age group. According to the statistics stated above, the most regularly utilized feminine products globally are the sanitary napkins that girls use to soak menstrual blood.
Toxics Links, an environmental NGO based in South Delhi, dedicated to bring toxics-related information into the public domain concluded in their report (attached below) that in India, the number of sanitary napkins marketed doubles every five years, with approximately 1.25 billion pads sold in 2006. Sales of sanitary napkins increased in the nation to 5.12 billion pieces in 2016, and by 2021 they were projected to reach 10.31 billion. The question of whether these menstrual pads are safe and the extent of their compatibility, then emerges. It was covered by many news reports and magazines in this week and highlighted the problems in existing sanitary pad and feminine hygiene products in India. So, let's understand what this report actually says and why it is important for all the sanitary pad users.
Wrapped in secrecy - A Summary
According to research dubbed "Wrapped in Secrecy" that was produced by the Delhi-based non-profit NGO, ‘Toxics Link’, the majority of prominent brands of sanitary products available in India carry hazardous materials. This research investigated sanitary napkins for the presence of phthalates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other harmful substances. Nearly 90% of currently marketed sanitary pads are primarily made of plastic. Plastic's non-biodegradability has significant negative effects on the environment, but elements that are purposely added or naturally present throughout the sanitary pad manufacturing process are also a subject of consideration. To increase the flexibility and functionality of sanitary pads, phthalates, previously employed as plasticizers, are typically incorporated in the layers. Steamy sealant, which is employed to connect the sanitary pad layers together, also contains phthalates. The paradox in this is that the phthalates in sanitary napkins come into direct contact with the vulva before moving on to the mucous membrane causing the early beginning of puberty in girls and rapid breast development. This has been directly linked to urinal levels of phthalate and associated toxins by many researchers. Asthma in children and early exposure to phthalates are just two of the detrimental effects of phthalate on pregnant and breastfeeding women. In addition, to their own health problems like foetal development or in some cases it may cause infertility.
The risks of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure are all also increased by exposure to phthalates. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are predominantly added to sanitary pads as aromas, bio sorbents, dampness barriers, sealants, and adhesives. Due to their volatility, VOCs have the propensity to be absorbed through the pulmonary system of individuals. The majority of VOCs are chromophores and have low molecular weights, which permit them to certainly pass through skin. They have been related to negative neuropsychiatric consequences on the mind and serious side effects such as fungal infection, yeast infection, skin rashes, ovarian cancer and hormonal dysfunction.
Disposal of Non-biodegradable Sanitary Napkins
There are still problems with how to properly dispose of used menstruation items. Since the majority of sanitary pads sold commercially are packed with chemicals, the effects on human health and the environment after disposal is huge. Sanitary trash, is not biological waste and is categorized under Solid Waste Rules in India.
In India, around 12 billion sanitary napkins are used annually, with a significant portion of those pads ending up in garbage dumps or waterways, allowing carcinogenic and poisonous substances to leach into the ground as stated in the report of down to earth. On an average, every sanitary pad has 2 grams of non-biodegradable plastic waste making an estimate of 26455 tons being released in the waterways and landfills every year. It excludes 2.5 grams of outer pack itself which makes 3000 tons of separate non-biodegradable plastic waste. The erroneous classification of this product in terms of environmental norms has resulted in micro-plastic pollution, soil fertility loss, and groundwater pollution.
Furthermore, because these dangerous gases have a considerable range and spread from their source, they not only cause health risks to people living nearby but also to communities living far away. As already mentioned above, current disposable sanitary pads, which are still used by the majority of women, appear to be the main causes of thyroid-related disorders, carcinoma, cesarian melanoma, skin allergies resulting in puffiness, inflammation, and occasionally soreness with ulcers.
Himalayan Hemp Sanitary Napkins
In contrast to all of this, Himalayan hemp has developed reusable cannabis hemp sanitary pads for women, bringing about a potential revolution in menstrual sanitation. Himalayan Hemp sanitary pad is the only cannabis and/or hemp-based innovation in the Agnii portal by Government of India out of around 600 innovations listen in their Invest India portal. Hemp fiber is anti-bacterial in nature due to the presence of flavanoids and its high level of strenght makes it reusable up to 60 washes and even more. The benefits of these pads are endless since it is washable, compostable, highly absorbent, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and rash-resistant, effectively controls the heavy flow and is economical.
During the conversation, its maker and co-founder of Himalayan Hemp, Sonam Sodha states,
"I was the first user of himalayan hemp sanitary pads and its rash-resistant properties were first verified by me and then, by the family members as well friends followed by the test results from the government lab."
In addition to this, Dilip Kankanala, an Environmental Engineer and General Manager of Himalayan Hemp states,
"Along with the health benefits, it also gives farmers a sustainable alternate cash crop and since, hemp gives highest biomass per acre; it can provide a sustainable source of income because menstruation is always going to be catered which is an integral part of women’s life."
It is high time that we make ourselves aware of the wrong practices prevalent in our society and take action towards a healthier self and safe environment. Switching to washable and recyclable sanitary napkins is one such step towards achieving menstrual hygiene.
Himalayan Hemp has always been responsible about the health and economic impacts of the everyday products which motivates us to ideate and create eco-conscious and socially-impactful products and these sanitary pads have just been perfect to start our journey in the hemp ecosystem of India.