These social entrepreneurs are making menstrual health affordable and sustainable

13th Dec 2017
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Boondh is a social enterprise that focuses on sustainable menstruation through menstrual cups and other menstrual hygiene management practices and promotes positivity around menstruation.

In a country where most mothers consider menstruation dirty, there are many organisations working on removing the stigma.

There are efforts to educate children and parents and to provide sanitary napkins for cheap. But one organisation aims to solve the problem differently.

Boondh is a social enterprise that focuses on two aspects: one, it promotes sustainable menstruation through menstrual cups and other menstrual hygiene management practices; and two, it promotes positivity around menstruation. It does this, importantly, for people from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Starting up

Sonal Jain, a former Young India Fellow and World Merit Fellow, was looking to start up to make menstrual cups more affordable and accessible for women in India.

Serendipitously, a couch surfer at her house introduced her to Bharti Kannan, an engineer and a social science student. Bharti was passionate about menstrual health and had worked with marginalised communities before.

She had conceptualised and set up Boondh by this time and the two met and realised their visions were aligned, and together they collaborated to take Boondh further. Bharti says that Sonal’s passion for sustainable menstruation was very fueling; Sonal recounts proudly Bharti’s work in disaster relief. "All the institutions we have been in, right from the family to formal ones, have always seemed to discriminate against periods, even in my own privileged settings, Bharti says,

The process of starting Boondh has even impacted our own lives, especially in the way we relate to and experience menstruation.

Driving sustainability

Why menstrual cups?

They are a healthier, economical and more environment friendly way of managing one’s period. You are doing away with bleached cotton that is flushed with carcinogens which in turn causes irritation and dryness.

A menstrual cup simply collects blood instead of absorbing it and is made of medical grade silicone which is an inert material. As it is a reusable cup, it is a one-time cost and has far less of a carbon footprint than a product like a disposable pad or a tampon” says Sonal, “Even better, it lets you swim and needs to be emptied only once in 8-12 hours depending on the flow.”

“A single woman creates about 125-150 kg of waste by using sanitary napkins. These napkins have plastic layers that take 700-800 years to break down. The treatment of this waste is also questionable. It is an issue of health, environment and social justice,” adds Sonal, who formerly worked on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 – responsible consumption and production – with World Merit.

Driving affordability

Most people who menstruate in India do not use sanitary napkins. A lot of them use rags, leaves, sand, and other material. Bringing these people an affordable menstrual health solution is an imperative.

On an average, a woman spends Rs 60,000 to 1,20,000 on disposable menstrual products. Being a one-time buy, cups cost far less than that. And yet, to a lot of women, they are still not affordable. This is why Boondh sells menstrual cups at lower prices.

In a bid to truly make menstruation affordable for everyone, Boondh has been involved in very experimental projects in taking menstrual health sessions and sustainable products to hitherto untouched communities: tribals in Jharkhand, peer educators in Rajasthan, pilot programs in ecologically sensitive Uttarakhand, schools in Thrissur, village communities in Coimbatore and government schools in Himachal Pradesh. “We have learnt an immense amount from these communities,” Bharti says.

A quote from a woman entrepreneur from a Jharkhand village highlights the impact sustainable menstruation can have. She says, “The menstrual cup has made my life easier. It is not only economical but is even easy to use. At first I was sceptical regarding its use but now when I speak about it in my community, there are girls who are willing to use this as an alternative sanitary product.”

An everyday event that gratifies us, though, is hearing from a cup user about how using a cup has changed the way they menstruate, adds Bharti, They say they feel empowered, liberated and guilt-free while sustainably using our products.

Boondh’s Facebook page is testament to this feedback – it is overrun with women talking about how the cup helped them work out during their periods, how they are pleased at their contribution to reducing landfills, how they got other women in their family to use menstrual cups.

Apart from workshops, Boondh has also run campaigns in the past. One of these focused on talking about the tax on menstrual products; one, a campaign to convert as many women as possible to using cups in 2017; another, a curated art exhibition around periods called The Crimson Wave.

Boondh is a for profit enterprise, with revenue being generated through cash sales and menstrual programming and sessions in various communities. Some of the community work, Bharti says, is fuelled by cup sales as well.

Overcoming challenges

Bharti says that making inroads into communities is a difficult task. “It requires us to expend a lot of time, energy and resources in advocacy for the issue by also talking about the responsibility communities have towards talking about menstruation,” she says, “We are always wary about, and prepared for a backlash. We conduct workshops with utmost sensitivity.” Sonal adds, "Discussing concepts such as virginity and the functionality of the hymen are a part of regular part of our sessions and these often challenge traditional belief systems.

I am glad that our work is able to help question assumptions arising from superstitions in a space where stigma is synonymous to the act of menstruation.

“Pricing our product and ensuring cash flows to continue operations in a small but growing startup is an everyday challenge,” Sonal says, “Especially when the focus is on impact.”

Future plans

Boondh wants to eventually grow to become an organisation that is about everything menstrual. Bharti and Sonal say this means expanding their focus along three areas: knowledge building and dissemination not just with hygiene but with every aspect of menstruation; product development on everything sustainable related to hormonal and psychological health; and solutions on reaching more and more communities.

“We know the issue we are tackling is important,” Sonal says,

Access to better menstrual hygiene means girls stay in school longer and women can work with fewer difficulties, not letting a process as natural as menstruation hinder growth of any kind. Of course, removing the stigma around menstruation is one part of it.
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