Anantnag, May 30: A narrow street branching off from the main road in Hangalgund village of Anantnag's Kokernag area leads to Narupora, a hamlet dotted by lofty walnut trees.
Inside a newly constructed concrete shed in the village, one could see stacks of PE films, tissues, papers and all that jazz.
Donning white aprons, a knot of young women are working on small machines to manufacture the sanitary pads.
In this outlying village, ten young women teamed up and established a sanitary manufacturing unit. “We formed a Self Help Group and applied for the unit in 2020,” says Ridwana amidst a whirring sound of a machine.
Ridwana (37) had been flirting with the idea of setting up a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit since she was married in the village.
“I originally hail from a neighbouring village where women are comparatively more conscious about menstrual hygiene,” she says.
According to Ridwana, upon her marriage, she found that most of the women in the area resort to unhygienic practices during their periods. “A large number of women were managing with unsterilised pieces of fabric. And talking about menstrual health is a subject we have put out of bounds,” she says with a sense of regret.
In 2020, when the world was caught in the throes of COVID-19 and the government imposed a protracted lockdown to stave off the transmission of deadly virus, Ridwana gave a serious thought to setting up a sanitary manufacturing unit in the village.
“I thought how even the women who are well aware about menstrual hygiene would be coping up during the lockdown", she says.
A post graduate in Urdu, Ridwana was aware of various government schemes. She formed a Self Help Group of nine young women in her village and applied for a sanitary manufacturing unit under ‘My Pad, My Right’ programme of NABARD's NABFoundation.
After initial hiccups due to pandemic, the manufacturing unit was finally inaugurated last month by District Magistrate, Anantnag Dr Basharat Qayoom.
Scores of women from the area were present at the inaugural function and were all ears when the speakers shed light on poor menstrual hygiene and the diseases associated with it.
Different surveys conducted by Ministry of Health between 2002 and 2012 revealed that around 60,000 cases of cervical cancer deaths are reported every year from India and two-third of them are due to poor menstrual hygiene, the speakers said.
Ridwana and her team not only manufacture the napkins but also move from village to village to generate awareness about menstrual hygiene. “We visited more than 20 villages since we launched our product and made people aware about menstrual health,” she says.
The team manufactures at least 800 pieces of sanitary pads each day, fetching them a good amount. The product named as Nissa has, according to Ridwana, outperformed the top-tier companies manufacturing the sanitary napkins.
“Our product completely locks the fluid inside and provides better and longer protection than other products", she said.
Now, talking about menstrual health is no longer a taboo at least in the village. The stigma attached to it is fast going away as the manufacturing unit has touched off a discussion among the inhabitants about menstrual hygiene.
“The women and young girls don’t shy away from visiting our unit to purchase the product”, she adds with a radiant smile on her face.