How this 17-year-old is making women understand the urgency to adopt green period products
Bengaluru-based Guhar Goyal experienced discomfort and rashes due to disposable sanitary napkins and made the switch to cloth pad in 2017. The 17-year-old believes this minor swap brought a significant lifestyle change.
So, when an opportunity presented itself the same year in the form of Investor Changemaker Challenge, a competition for high school students to pitch ideas for positive change in the world, Guhar thought it was the right time and platform to raise awareness around the benefits of adopting sustainable menstrual products.
“I did not win the competition and made it till the semifinals, but the whole process only made me realise the depth of the issue and how it has remained unaddressed. It motivated me to continue the work by myself with the help of my mother,” she says.
She then started Green Period, an initiative to raise awareness and educate women about the sustainable period products, its health benefits, and the damage that plastic sanitary pads cause to the environment.
Disposable sanitary napkins contain various chemicals used for bleaching, adding artificial fragrances, and uses cotton that are loaded with pesticides, all of which makes the product too hazardous to be kept in contact with sensitive skin areas for consecutive days every month. As shown in multiple studies, the fact that such chemicals often get absorbed into our bloodstream makes it even more hazardous to our health.
In addition to personal health concerns, wide usage of such commercial products poses environmental concern as well.
According to a Central Pollution Control Board report (2018-19), around 12.3 billion sanitary napkins end up in India’s landfills every year, with 90 percent of each pad being plastic material.
Menstrual Health Alliance India estimates that a sanitary pad would take about 500 to 800 years to decompose.
Opting for sustainable period products
To begin with, Guhar kickstarted her work by collaborating with sustainable menstruation startup StoneSoup by speaking about her experience at various events and public gatherings.
Green Period was further able to raise Rs 1 lakh through public fundraising. The money was then used to buy 200 menstrual cups for Covid-19 frontline workers. She also distributed over 80 menstrual cups to pourakarmikas (municipal sweepers) at Orion Mall in Bengaluru during the Swachh Survekshan 2021 event.
Guhar was initially taken aback at the lack of awareness among women about menstruation itself and the biology behind why it happens. The larger goal now for her is to help beat period poverty.
“Disposable pads are expensive and serve just one time use whereas sustainable products like cloth pads and menstrual cups are one-time investments that will last for a long period of time,” she says.
She recalls organising an awareness session by a gynecologist for health staff in her school and explaining in regional languages. Among the underprivileged and middle class population, she saw huge hesitancy or close mindedness to just use cloth products.
“Tackling such a mindset continues to be one of the biggest challenges,” she adds. Language is another barrier when reaching out to the underprivileged people who do not speak English.
She often received discouraging responses from well-to-do people; this ranged from questions like ‘who do you think you are trying to change our way of life,’ or ‘you are just a teenager and don’t understand what you are saying.’
The road ahead
Manav Subodh, co-founder of 1M1B Foundation (Million for 1 Billion), a United Nations accredited non-profit organisation, has been mentoring Guhar for the past year during the lockdown.
Collaborating remotely, Guhar says, being part of the 1M1B’s programme helped with structure and direction to her work.
Manav says that although the pandemic became a tough time for the organisation and it was considering whether to carry on the 1M1B Future Leaders programme, the students’ dedication to connect remotely and plan field works when COVID-19 restriction eased, made it happen.
Come December 2021, Guhar, along with other selected finalists, will be presenting their social impact work at the UN headquarters in New York.
When asked about future plans, Guhar promptly states that she wants to file a petition to have sanitary products be recognised as medical products, and thus mandate commercial manufacturers to disclose its contents with transparency in packaging.
In the long run, she hopes to continue spreading awareness around eco-friendly products and practices, and become a “sustainability influencer”.
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Edited by Megha Reddy