A tête-à-tête with Dr Meenakshi Bharath, a gynaecologist for the last 35 years and a green campaigner
There are several volunteers and doctors who are working towards educating people about the newer, less harmful and more environment-friendly menstrual practices and products; one of them is Dr Meenakshi Bharath.
She is not only a gynaecologist and fertility specialist but also a green campaigner. She advocated for Clean India much before the Swachh Bharat campaign started and championed similar causes.
Dr Bharath’s current project is “Green The Red” campaign, under which she is advocating “sustainable menstruation” to make the women happy during their sometimes stressful period. This is a volunteer-led month-long awareness initiative being held this month leading up to the World Menstrual Hygiene Day. It included sessions by the doctors and for the doctors.
Down To Earth spoke to Dr Bharath about her experience of holding these sessions and how change is happening. Here is an excerpt:
How did the doctors respond to you advocating products like menstrual cups?
When I told the doctors about menstrual cups, one of them exclaimed, “How can we ask our patients to insert something in their vaginas?” To this, I said, “While examining your patients every day, you insert your fingers in their vagina, right? So what’s the problem with this?”
Otherwise, the doctors are happy to learn about the menstrual cup and the cloth pads. Around 40 sessions have been held across the country and over 3,000 doctors have been reached since the programme started on April 22.
Since you have been a gynaecologist for more than three decades now, tell us the kinds of changes you have come across in the medicine and how the society has responded to those changes since menstrual health is directly connected to cultural beliefs?
There has been a sea change in the modalities of treatment that are available in medicine and a lot of them are associated with the usage of medical grade silicon. Like LED lights have improved visibility, silicon has improved the flexibility of our medical equipment. Although menstrual cups were invented in 1934, they were not user-friendly as they used to be made with metal then. They were difficult to insert as they were rigid. Now that we have medical grade silicon, menstrual cups are much more comfortable and the body doesn't react to it in any adverse fashion. If you look at the newer modalities of medicine, everything has undergone a sea change.
We need to look at newer modalities for menstruation also to make it comfortable to remove the taboo menstruation is associated with. Two generations ago, they wanted women to rest for some days as women were the ones doing all the chores, be it getting water from wells or grinding masala. So, during the menstrual cycle, they were to rest. This became a taboo later when they were put as unnecessary restrictions on women. People considered a cloth pad hanging out to dry as an apshagun. How can it be an apshagun? Then why isn't semen discharge considered an apshagun?
What are the negative aspects of a sanitary napkin and how do they affect women's health?
The current disposable sanitary napkins available are made of nearly 95 per cent plastic and are not very comfortable, especially since we wear them for over five days a month. There is chaffing of the thighs, vulval dermatitis and foul smell coming from the pads. These pads are expensive too and many who cannot afford to buy more of them will make use of the same pads for a longer duration making it unhealthy. Also, these sanitary napkins tend to bloat in water and many people still throw them into toilets and the sewage lines tend to get blocked again and again requiring frequent cleaning, which is a task that few people like to do.
Otherwise, the used pads are thrown out in open air and burnt and this burning releases dioxins and furans which are proven carcinogens. Also, the quantity of napkins used per day is enormous—approximately 90,000 kg per day in Bengaluru and all this is sent to the landfills.
Since the brands that sell these napkins are so huge, how do you think the country can try to do away with them?
It is not going to be easy to change the habit of women, like any other habit. But as women realise that periods can become comfortable and happy, they will become the agents of change themselves. Every one woman, who experiences the comfort of the menstrual cup and the cloth pad, will then spread it among her relatives and friends.
How affordable are these eco-friendly products?
Very affordable. The eco-friendly cloth pads cost about Rs 1,500 for two years while disposable pads cost about Rs 2,000-5,000 in two years. The menstrual cup is cheaper as it costs Rs 1,000 per cup which can be used for 8-10 years and this means per month the cup costs only Rs 8. The disadvantage is that this amount needs to paid upfront to buy the cup.
How effective has the 'Green The Red' campaign been?
I think that it has brought about a great deal of awareness among women and a few men that there are alternative methods to the single use disposable pads and there has been an increase in sales of menstrual cups and cloth pads significantly.
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