This 27-year-old from Kumily in Kerala is on a mission fighting plastic waste generated from sanitary pads. For the last two years, Lakshmy Das has been running mass awareness campaigns on sustainable products for menstrual health through her Maanushi Foundation.
It was while staying in Kochi for her graduation course that Lakshmy Das realised the stark reality that the only way to dispose of used sanitary pads was to wrap them in newspapers and dump it along with other waste.
But what really moved her was the sight of labourers, who come to collect the waste, manually separating it from other waste and throwing it in a heap of plastic garbage.
“Lakhs of used sanitary pads are unscientifically disposed of every day along with other waste. These pads get either buried in the ground or burnt causing massive environmental pollution. The labourers who handle them are getting exposed to pathogens and microorganisms that can cause a lot of health ailments. So we decided to come out with a solution. But we knew that it wasn’t easy because people were heavily dependent on sanitary pads. So we decided to start a small movement right from the grass root level,” said Lakshmy Das.
In December 2020, Lakshmy Das launched Maanushi Foundation at her home village in Kumily where there was no scientific method to dispose of used sanitary pads despite the panchayat implementing a proper waste management system by collecting bio-degradable and plastic waste from the doorstep of each resident. She put to use her experience working as a volunteer at Auroville, in Pondicherry for the project called Eco Femme that was into creating environmental and social change through sustainable menstrual practices.
“We began conducting Menstrual Health Management (MHM) sessions for women and young girls to create awareness on menstrual hygiene and sustainable products like cloth pads and menstrual cups which are alternatives to conventional sanitary pads. With the support of a few like-minded organisations, we could also distribute free cloth pads to over 800 women and girls as part of our campaign,” Lakshmy Das said.
Her interaction with thousands of marginalised women in Kumily as part of the MHM sessions made her realise poor knowledge of these women on sexual and reproductive health. She widened her campaign and designed a programme called Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) to sensitise people on menstrual health education, sustainable menstrual practices, sexual and reproductive health and rights awareness.
The campaigns were largely focused on tribal settlements, anganwadis and government schools in Kumily. “We have so far covered nearly 3500 people. We hope to expand our activities in the coming months,” said Lakshmy Das who is also pursuing her PhD in English Literature from Amrita University in Coimbatore.
The Maanushi Foundation has also launched a rural incubator project for economic empowerment of women in Kumily. “We launched an e-commerce portal (https://maanushiforearth.myshopify.com) enabling women to earn a livelihood through sustainable and eco-friendly businesses. The platform offers a space for women to sell their home-made products. We currently support nine women entrepreneurs through our platform,” she added.