“My brother thought I was making a children’s diaper” said Shreemati Devi, a digital entrepreneur involved in the production of Smartpads. Smartpad is a re-usable sanitary pad. As Shreemati explained the benefits of using it a group of young boys stood around us listening to her. However, as they realized what she was talking about they mumbled to each other and walked away. As I noticed this I asked Shreemati why this happened and she said “they feel shy listening to us speak about periods. This is exactly the reason so many young girls suffer quietly and don’t speak out when they get their first period. Her body goes through serious changes and she is unable to speak to anyone about it, just imagine what she must be going through.”
Digital Empowerment Foundation has set up a Smartpad production unit in the district of Barabanki based out of the village of Saidanpur. The unit is nothing like a conventional production unit; spread over 5 villages it provides livelihood to several women. Kiran Gupta, the stitching trainer at DEF’s center in Saidanpur said “apart from the obvious benefit that the pad provides- ensuring that girls use pads, it is also more environment-friendly as villages don’t have a proper waste management system so people just use the pads and throw them here and there. This can lead to a spread of diseases and it is also an environment hazard.” Kiran takes stitching classes for girls in the village and has so far trained 200 girls. She has handpicked seven girls across five villages along with DEF’s district head Utkarsh Rajawat to make pads. Having received a large order from Digikargha (an entity that provides artisans of rural clusters a platform to sell their products. During the pandemic they have bought a large stock of products from across seven clusters in India as the artisans didn’t have any other buyers and without the sale of their products they weren’t able to earn a decent livelihood. In fact, most of the artisans who Digikargha wasn’t able to support left their craft and started looking for other avenues of income like farming and labour work), Utkarsh has put them all to work. During the pandemic lack of work has pushed a large section of the population closer to poverty and the production of these pads have provided these girls with a source of livelihood.
Most women from the older generation in rural parts of the country use dirty cloths during their periods and this unsanitary practice has also come down to the young girls. Some girls who are even aware of the benefits of pads are unable to use them because they can’t afford it. Smartpad provides a sustainable, environment-friendly and cost-effective solution not just for girls in rural areas but also for girls and women living in urban areas.