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One-man army to fight for women's sanitation

Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Sravia Sivaram

Chennai: The social stigma attached to the word 'menses' has long been bothering Prabhakaran, a city-based insurance agent who lives in Vadapalani. It all started after the recent December deluge, when he witnessed the cleaning-up of sewers in Chennai.

"The sewers were choked because of the large number of sanitary napkins that were blocking the way and that's when I realised the poor conditions of disposal of used pads," says Prabhakaran. That incident sparked in him the need to understand the improper methods by which these are disposed and also the need to raise awareness on the issue. 

Prabhakaran visited several government and private hospitals in the city and spoke with the women staff to understand the conditions of toilets there. "Most of the buildings did not have women-friendly toilets and they were also feeling uncomfortable to speak about this to the men," he says.

"A private hospital at Vadapalani did not have a bin in the toilets and there are about 80 women staff. This is the main reason why they are forced to flush them," he adds.  

Improper disposal of sanitary napkins leads to constant health hazards that led him to think of the condition of girls in the villages. He travelled to a dozen villages and was shocked to find the existence of community halls where menstruating girls are made to sit in isolation. "The houses there also have separate rooms where girls are made to sit during that time and are not allowed to come out," he says.

All these triggered the 41-year-old Chennaiite to think of safer methods of disposing the napkins. That's when he chanced upon incinerators.

An average woman throws away about 150 kg of mostly non-biodegradable absorbents every year, according to 'period of change', a campaign started under The Kachra project, a social movement to bring awareness on garbage menace.  Almost 90 per cent of a sanitary napkin is plastic, which makes it a non-biodegradable product.

"The correct way to destroy used sanitary napkins is 'burning' and converting it into ash and this can be done by making use of 'automatic sanitary napkin disposal system' or 'sanitary napkin burner' which is otherwise called incinerator. The unit disposes of used sanitary napkins by a scientifically proven hygienic way instantly," he says.

"This method is known to many but not all have adopted this. My aim is to introduce this into government schools and hospitals. As part of this measure, I'm seeking support under CSR from various companies and have adopted about 25 schools in Chennai. These schools will be provided with incinerators and students will be taught the right method to use them. A single napkin can produce about two grams of ash which is sterile," says Prabhakaran.

The incinerators will be provided by Glo Life Care Pvt Ltd, a medical equipment manufacturing company based in Chennai. Prabhakaran has also roped in friends to make a documentary film on the taboo associated with menses and is planning to use it to create awareness on the issue.     

"I have adopted this as my personal community connect project for the next five years and will enrol leaders to take this project to various strata of society," says Prabhakaran.

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