The Feminist Times
WALKING THE TALK - ECO FEMME JOIN THE CLOTH PAD REVOLUTION!
Updated: Apr 17, 2021
Join the cloth pad revolution!
Eco Femme is a women-run social enterprise based out of the international township Auroville, Tamil Nadu. Auroville is an experimental community working towards human humanity. In particular, it is a hub for innovators and changemakers in the areas of sustainable living and green practices and this, in part, has inspired and helped Eco Femme grow.
We produce and sell washable cloth pads, provide menstrual health education and open up conversation on menstruation all along the way. Our goal is to create environmental and social change through revitalising menstrual practices that are healthy, dignified, environmentally sustainable, culturally responsive and empowering. For us, business and social responsibility really do go hand in hand.
How did it all begin?
In 2000, Kathy Walkling started Eco Femme almost immediately after “discovering” cloth pads in a small eco-shop. The issue of menstrual waste had been on her heart and mind for many years and, inspired by this discovery; she immediately began stitching her own.
“I began a small production with the idea of making the products available to environmentally conscious women in Auroville because it just felt like the right thing to do… within a few years, I had a small business that had grown completely organically.”
Kathy worked with an NGO called Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) to create a livelihood for rural women by stitching cloth pads. This naturally raised questions about menstrual health and practices amongst women in Tamil Nadu. Individual surveys with women indicated that menstruation was a complex issue touching on social, cultural, economic, environmental, health, religious, and gender issues. This research showed that cloth pads, when accompanied by education, offered a perfect opportunity to open up these conversations, empower women to make informed choices, and addressing the growing issue of sanitary waste in India.
“I found it really astonishing to discover that although most western women are aware of a variety of menstrual products, in India, almost every woman is only aware of the traditional practice of using old cloth or the modern practice of using disposable sanitary napkins. I felt that at least if women would be aware, they may welcome another option.”
Today, Eco Femme’s pads are sold in over 25 countries around the world. As well as ensuring a living wage and dignified work conditions for a team of women in the villages around Auroville, we are changing the conversation around menstruation and empowering individuals to make informed choices that are dignified, and healthy for themselves and the environment.
The issue: Disposable plastic pads
Disposable sanitary napkins are generally made from about 90% plastic; one pad is the equivalent of four plastic bags! The plastic and associated chemicals not only pose a risk to our health when placed against sensitive vaginal skin, it also creates a mountain of waste that takes 800 years to break down into microplastics. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic invisible to our eyes which enter our air, water, earth… and ultimately, the food we eat.
Our Washable Cloth Pads
Washable cloth pads are rapidly gaining acceptance around the world for their health, environmental and cost saving benefits.
Our cloth pads are made from organic cotton flannel which is not only reusable but when cared for properly, can reduce the risk of infections and irritation. The pads come in four different sizes - from our light flow Pantyliners, up to our heavy flow Night Pad. Each has a laminated, leakproof layer and snap buttons that you use to fasten the pad onto your underwear. And… of course, they are beautiful too.
Each pad lasts for approximately 75 washes, or 3-4 years depending on how many you have. If you make the switch to reusable cloth pads it prevents an average of 600 disposable pads from being thrown away during a five year period!
Spreading the Cloth Pad Revolution
Pad For Pad
Pad For Pad is Eco Femme’s menstrual health education and free cloth pad distribution programme for underprivileged adolescent girls in India. Our sessions give girls a change to relate to menstruation as a normal, healthy experience. Participants learn how to manage menstruation in a dignified and sustainable way, after which they are offered a free kit which consists of four cloth pads, a travel pouch, education booklet and care instructions. It is important to us that girls choose whether they would like to try cloth pads; that they make an informed choice based on accurate information. For us, this is a key part of empowerment in practice.
Why is it named Pad for Pad (P4P)? In the true spirit of eco-sisterhood, every time an Eco Femme pad is purchased internationally, it donates a pad to a girl in rural India. You can also opt to make a donation to P4P if purchasing our pads in India. We reach over a 1000 girls each month and have partners all across India.
Pad For Sisters
In 2013, we launched Pads for Sisters (P4S) in order to make our products accessible to economically disadvantaged women (over 19 years old). Under P4S, underprivileged women can purchase cloth pads at subsidized rates. We also provide cloth pads in bulk at discounted rates to NGOs working with women who can not afford cloth pads at the commercial pricing, as well as training on how to deliver empowering menstrual health education.
Individuals who try cloth pads often find it a transformative experience. From using to washing to drying our cloth pads, somehow it shifts perception of menstruation and our relationship to our earth and bodies. For many, this is eye-opening and exciting, leading them to reach out to Eco Femme to ask how they can help raise awareness about cloth pads so that others can embark on a similar journey.
These passionate individuals become a part of our vibrant volunteer Ambassador network. Our Ambassadors are found all around the world and work to revalue menstruation and raise awareness about cloth pads. For some this is through advocacy and education, for others it is through market stalls, art and spoken word poetry - it is really up to the individual and their skills and ideas!
If you are curious to learn more about us (or even better, join us), please visit our website: www.ecofemme.org
Bring on the cloth pad revolution! #maketheswitch