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Jayati Godhawat

IWB Blogger

Arjun Of ‘The Red Cycle’ Makes Us Rethink Our Support For Tax-Free Sanitary Pads

  • IWB Post
  •  November 16, 2017


One of the biggest taboo topics in India is menstruation. The ignorance, the silence, and the secretive approach towards periods still have firm roots in our society.

And, this taboo around menstruation is the biggest reason for poor menstrual health and hygiene amongst women, especially, the rural women in our country.

However, there are many initiatives that are being taken by, individuals, organizations, and even the Government to raise awareness about menstruation and related issues in India. One such initiative, ‘Sustainable Menstruation Kerala Collective,’ has been taken by the students of the universities and colleges in the state.

Under this initiative, a lot of campaigns like The Haiku, The Red Cycle, Code Red, Happy to Bleed, Alternative Products Manufacturers, etc., are being run by various groups of students and each one of them focuses on a specific aspect of Menstruation.

The Red Cycle Campaign

Meemansa Singh, one of the team members, taking a session.

IWB talked to the ideator of  ‘The Red Cycle‘ campaign, Arjun Unnikrishnan, where he discussed the importance of normalizing the concept of menstruation amongst people.

Dealing with the social aspect of periods, Arjun and his team conducts talks, debate, and discussion sessions in schools, colleges, and at public spaces.

On the inspiration for the campaign, Arjun said, “I was awaiting my 12th board results when I came across this empowering article about Arunachalam Muruganantham, known as the Pad Man of India, and it was then I realized that I had never been educated on the topic of menstruation.”

Initially, Arjun thought of encouraging and promoting low-cost pads to underprivileged women to increase its accessibility amongst them.

“However, when I discussed this idea with my teacher, she shared with me the number of social blocks and taboo related to menstruation in our society,” he recollected, “I also realized that like me, most of the men know nothing about the subject, even after becoming adults.”

Understanding the need of educating people, both boys and girls, about menstruation and its related topics, Arjun decided to shift his focus from distributing low-cost pads to conducting awareness sessions.

“We are only dealing with the social aspect of the subject and conduct sessions on menstruation, alternative sanitary products available, and their effects on health and environment,” shared Arjun.

Another side of Government-run Pads distribution campaigns

The Red Cycle Campaign

Arjun highlighted an important issue and said, “The Government mostly runs such schemes in remote villages, where women have no or limited access to sanitary pads. They have advocated that the cloth pads are not hygienic which is completely false. Moreover, these campaigns last maximum for three years, and in these years, the women become habitual of using disposable pads. So, after the Government stops their free or nominal rate supply of these pads, the women are forced to buy high-priced pads.”

Cons of using and promoting Sanitary Pads

Arjun told me that the women using sanitary pads, made mostly out of plastic, are not the only ones who suffer from ill-health effects but the conservancy workers that are the safai karamcharis are also exposed to the negative effects.

“If a company is producing sanitary pads on such a large scale, they must have a proper disposal system, too. The plastic and the chemicals used are harmful to both women using them as well as the conservancy workers who are incharge of disposing this toxic waste.” he said.

“In fact, people are unaware of the ill-effects of the sanitary pad incinerators which are mostly installed in toilets. Incinerators basically burn the pads and as they are mostly plastic, they release toxins which can be harmful to women,” added Arjun.

The Red Cycle

Team ‘The Red Cycle’

Taboos associated with Sanitary Pads Alternatives

Arjun also discussed the stigma around the alternative products for sanitary pads and how it depicts a lack of awareness and proper education on the subject.

“As I said, women are nowadays discouraged to use cloth pads because they have been conditioned to believe that it’s unhygienic, but, it’s not true. A cloth pad needs to be washed and sanitized by drying in the sun. However, women in our society feel ashamed to even sundry their panties, let alone cloth pads. Then, there’s this taboo around using menstrual cups because they need to be “inserted,”” he elucidated.

All these taboos can only be shunned when we start talking about menstruation and normalize it in our society, emphasized Arjun.

The Hazardous Side of Tax-free Sanitary Pads

Currently, there are many people in the country who are voicing towards making the sanitary pads tax-free as it’s a basic necessity of a woman and not a luxury. However, Arjun presented an altogether different perspective on the burning issue and called it a “counter-campaign by the large scale manufacturers of sanitary pads.”

“These large-scale manufacturers of sanitary pads are influencing many things. Some “stats” reveal that only 12% of the Indian women are using sanitary pads. It’s not true! They are only shelling out money from women for something as natural as periods. We are not against business or profit making, however, the large margins they are extracting out of women, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, in the name of menstrual hygiene, is unethical.”

“And, we believe that this ongoing rage to make sanitary pads tax-free is also a counter campaign by these influencing companies. Imagine if they become tax-free and become even more accessible to women, what amount of harm it can cause to our health, nature, and environment. Another issue is, there isn’t a disposal mechanism. So, priority should be given for proper disposal mechanism,” continued Arjun.

The Red Cycle Campaign

Sreya Salim, representing The Haiku campaign, conducting a session on Menstrual Hygiene

“Being said that, we do not shun the idea of tax-free sanitary products and support the idea, but only for the alternative products and not for sanitary pads.”

Coming back to their campaign, ‘The Red Cycle,’ Arjun also shared how they are not only educating boys and girls on menstruation but are also addressing gender issues related to the subject.

“Whenever we conduct sessions, we make it a point to have an alternative seating arrangement, i.e. one girl and one boy. Of course, that’s the most common question we get at the beginning of every question that, ‘Why are there boys in the class?’ Educating boys about it as important as educating the girls. And, as the session proceeds, they also understand the importance of it.”

 P.S. You can know more about ‘The Red Cycle’ campaign on their Facebook page, here.

This article was first published in June, 2017.

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