Monday, December 04, 2006
The business of dignity
I had visited my friend Vasudha on Saturday and in the course of our discussions I mentioned that one of my long-standing wishes was to start manufacturing low cost sanitary napkins, for the poor and low-income women of India.
In India, even today, the overwhelming majority of women use old cloths / rags during their menstrual periods. A small section of the urban population uses one or other of the the wide range of products available in the market. But there is no product that specifically targets the poor and low-income.
The overwhelming majority of women in India face great hardships and indignity, besides health risks, because they cannot afford the available sanitary napkins.
Traditional practice is a factor, but it is affordability which is the key issue.
As I see it, sanitary napkins could be sold at a very cheap price through the huge (govt) public distribution system. If I was a minister, I would also study and work for free distribution of sanitary napkins to the poorest.
The key challenge is to design an appropriate product and define the manufacturing technology and business model. I would prefer localised production across the country, with poor women in villages and urban slums securing gainful employment from this.
The environmental dimension also needs to be kept in mind. I think some of the products now in the market may not be bio-degradable. This is not yet an issue in public policy. If the overwhelming majority of Indian women (and especially in rural areas) started using sanitary napkins, then there would be a huge new problem of disposal.
Revisiting this idea, I once again got very excited about this. Also present in the discussion was Padmaja, a garment designer, who too was attracted by the idea. So I am hopeful that something materialises!
Human dignity - is a sacred goal, a fond hope. But to realise this - so much is needed. Enterprise, knowledge, ingenuity, technology, and capital have ultimately to be harnessed to the normative vision. So many utterly useless products are designed, produced, marketed and advertised. But my wonderful country has still not been able to come up with this very basic necessary product, that will bring dignity to our women.
Read the article (Nov 2004) "Menstrual Hygiene and Management in Developing Countries: Taking Stock" by Sowmyaa Bharadwaj and Archana Patkar.