About 10 years ago, while working with the Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG), Kathy Walkling found herself wondering how she could help women in rural India find their voice.
One of the things that struck her were how some of the local customs framed mensturation as impure and unclean. Women and girls were told to stay at home while they were having their period. Girls were filled with fear and anxiety, and were dropping out of school because they could not mix with the boys.
With this culture of concealment came a lack of awareness on menstruation. Many young girls were made to guess what to do and what was going on with their bodies. Only a small proportion of girls were using sanitary pads, with the majority using unclean things like dirty cloth, sand and coconut husk.
While the promotion of disposable sanitary pads in recent years helped women feel confident to go out during their period, it brought new problems – these pads are made of plastic which will remain in the environment for hundreds of years. They also contain chemicals which has led to rashes in some cases.
Around that time, Kathy learnt about washable sanitary pads made from cloth and started using them herself. Through washing her pads, she felt a connection with her body. It was a sharp contrast from the mindset of “don’t touch it, it’s dirty” that came with using disposable pads.
“I think with the menstrual cycle we learn to listen as we learn to be sensitive and respectful to cycles and cycles of nature, and don’t expect productivity all the time,” shared Kathy.
As she started sewing cloth pads and giving/ selling them, people kept asking for more. Realising that there was an opportunity to create a financially self-sustaining solution, Kathy and her co-founders officially set up EcoFemme as a social enterprise in 2010.
EcoFemme’s cloth pads provide jobs to women from under-served communities who stitch the pads by hand. They have also helped both men and women embrace this natural cycle in women’s bodies. Kathy shared a story of how a lady was hanging her newly-washed cloth pads on the laundry line when her husband came in, demanding that she put away the cloth pads as guests were coming. The lady stood her ground and said there was nothing shameful about it.
With a spark in her eyes, Kathy declared, “I think women have a powerful powerful voice and role to play in also helping us balance our global ecology…What we are sort of realizing all over the world [is] that empowering girls and women and giving them voice and agency is what really turns things around.”
Find out more & get the cloth pads at ecofemme.org!