By NYO ME
WHEN it comes to sanitary products, rural women are seizing the means of production
Pad Man is not a Marvel superhero. His name is Arunachalam Muruganantham, a metalworker in rural India who pioneered a method to produce low-cost sanitary pads. Bollywood producers made a movie out of him. Now, a group of women in a village outside of Yangon are making their own cheap sanitary products for rural women.
“I never used sanitary pads, I used pieces of cloth,” said Win Sandar Cho, a 33-year-old farmer from Ikalaung in Taikkyi township, the northernmost township of Yangon division. “I attached the cloth to my underwear with a safety pin. Afterwards I would wash it, fold it and keep it secretly,” she said.
She’s not alone. Many of the older women of Ikalaung village, particularly those whose jobs require manual labor, prefer to use old longyis or t-shirts, which can increase the chance of infection.
Women don’t find disposable pads comfortable, said Win Sandar Cho.Last year, during a sexuality and self-defense workshop in Yangon, organised by Metta Development Foundation, Win Sandar Cho and her three friends were shown samples of reusable pads which were manufactured in African villages. Faced with a scarcity of sanitary products, women there were staying home from school and work when they had their periods.
Inspired by the presentation, the four women began developing their own version of the pads from cotton and wool with the help of Cracy Than, a local women’s activist.
They tried on prototypes in consultation with local women. The final product, called Triple C, which features an outer layer of waterproof fabric into which a cloth pad is inserted and then attached to the underwear, was launched in mid-2017.
A pack costs K3,000 and includes four inner cloth pads which come in a range of colours, two waterproof outer pads, a bar of handmade soap and a waterproof carry bag. So far they have produced about 60 packages, 40 of which were donated to women in IDP camps in Kachin state who have little access to the disposable variety.
Cracy Than says rural women seem receptive of Triple C. Now they are trying to enter the market in Yangon. In Myanmar’s large cities, most women use disposable cotton pads which can be purchased from the supermarket.
Disposable pads cost around K2,000 per pack and a supply only lasts about two months, said Pyae Pyae Phyo, co-founder of Triple C. Her reusable pads, on the other hand, can last up to a year.
In India, Muruganantham’s low-cost sanitary pads have created small scale manufacturing jobs for women living in rural areas. Triple C aims to repeat the feat in rural Myanmar.
But having not yet found a distributor willing to put some money into an advertising campaign, it could take some time to change many women’s perceptions about using the more environmentally friendly reusable pads, says Daw Aye Aye Thin, co-founder of Triple C.
“Not everyone has shown their interest for these new products so we know we have to be successful and then they will follow.”
So far the feedback from users has been positive but there have been criticisms from working women who say they are too tired to wash the cloth pads after work and that they can’t be washed at the office.
“It is new to me and I think the idea is cool but I don’t even wash my own dress,” said Kyi Sway, 25, from Ikalaung village.
For now, Triple C products are made in secret. The workers don’t feel comfortable talking about their project among the men.
“When the boys ask us what we are doing, we just say we are tailoring cloth,” said Win Sandar Cho with a chuckle.