In providing locally-produced low-cost sanitary napkins to the women of Mewat, Project Rahat promotes effective menstrual health and hygiene, while creating an economically sustainable enterprise fully owned by local women.
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Project Rahat – A Brief Guide
The Production Process – Making the Sanitary Napkins
Poor and unhygienic menstrual health management practices that often lead to infection and disease that are rife among the women of rural Mewat. Through focus group discussions, SRFF discovered that up to 90% of Mewat females who have reached puberty do not use sanitary napkins during menstruation, instead using cloth to manage or nothing at all. Awareness on how to maintain sanitary hygiene during menstruation is extremely low, as it is a cultural taboo to discuss a woman’s menstrual cycle, which is traditionally associated with impurity.
With Mewat’s poor socio-economic conditions, awareness alone is not enough to bring women to use sanitary pads. Mariam Khan, one of the 5 ladies who produce the pads under the Rahat project, tells us, “Women who use nothing would stay indoors at all times… poorer women are unable to afford these napkins.” Remote villages are too far away to make buying commercial products a feasible option, and some of these products are simply too high-priced to be affordable for the average village woman.
This spurred the birth of Project Rahat, which was launched on 8 March 2013 in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Setting out, Project Rahat had three main goals:
1. To ensure the improved health of women.
2. To provide a platform for women to generate income.
3. To encourage environmental sustainability by producing bio-degradable napkins
SRFF recognised that Project Rahat’s success relied on our ability to overcome traditional attitudes that the community of Mewat were unlikely to easily give up. Hence, awareness of the project and its benefits was key. Focus group discussions were held not only with potential users of the Rahat-produced sanitary napkin, but also other stakeholders and influential figures in each village such as Sarpanches, religious leaders, shopkeepers, and self-help groups.
Though response from these stakeholders has been improving, more has to be done to educate more village women on menstrual health in order to boost demand. Praveen Karn, Coordinator of Project Rahat, tells us that efforts to raise awareness will be stepped up in the year to come, with the goal of reaching out to 2500 women across 19 villages.
Fortunately, Project Rahat has a dedicated team of production women who are on board with the awareness campaign to generate demand for a new product unfamiliar to Mewat women. Production team leader Rambhateri of Palwal Village voices her support for the project, “I have been telling the women about the pads… I will certainly bring back the samples for them.”
Beyond that, their ownership of the project is also evident. 35 year old Jaibuni tells us that she is very fond of her job and proud to be part of the project. “We are putting in a lot of effort in this project! Please support us.” Mariam, a widow with 4 sons and 2 daughters, says that from the past 4 months alone, she has benefitted from the project considerably, “I am able to have a source of income. I have learnt a new skill. I am able to lead a better life now.” With confidence in her team and the project, she tells us, “Things will start shaping up when there are more sales”.
Though in its early stages and with a low-cost focus, Project Rahat does not take lightly the quality of the napkins produced. Hands and feet must be washed, the room and machines cleaned regularly, napkins are never placed on the floor and full focus is required of the women.
Jaibuni tells us the team is told that even if only 1 packet is produced a day, it does not matter as long as hygiene is not compromised. After 3 months of user tests and experimenting with weights, packaging and effectiveness, the product has now been deemed good enough to be sold; users can rest assured that they will be purchasing and using napkins only of high quality.
We look forward to the immense potential we see in Project Rahat panning out successfully in Mewat, and the ladies in Mewat gaining knowledge on caring for their menstrual health as Project Rahat brings sanitary napkins that are low-cost, effective, and biodegradable to their doorstep.