Superstitions are strongly ingrained in the minds of those who live in Indian villages. Even something common like menstruation is a taboo that prevents women and girls from participating in daily chores and has a negative impact on their health. Despite its importance, it has become a matter of shame and impurity.
Payal Patel, a resident of Rangiatikra village in Jharsuguda district in Odisha, is a warrior against such outdated mentality. Since 2017, she has been regularly raising awareness about menstruation hygiene, the importance of sanitary pads, and distributing these pads to the female folk of her district.
The route to become a socio-entrepreneur and influence people’s attitudes toward menstruation was difficult for Payal. Her father died of cancer while she was in her twelfth grade. Payal Patel, the oldest daughter of Prashant and Savita Patel, wanted to start her own business to supplement the family income. The weird habit in her village of keeping girls in cowsheds isolated from other members and donning unclean clothing during their menstrual periods motivated her to start a business set up of napkin production.
Being from the lower middle class, however, it was not easy to set up a workshop. She worked in farm fields to support her family and studied at night to complete her BSc. After graduating from Jharsuguda Women’s College, she enrolled at a skill development institute, Rural Self Employment Training Institute, run by TRL Kosaraki Limited and SBI, to learn how to make sanitary pads. She also traveled to Mumbai to master innovative technology for producing low-cost pads. But, before she could realize her vision, she needed to do some groundwork by raising awareness.
“I educate women about the significance of a biological phenomenon like menstruation in the lives of women, which has nothing to do with impurity. I travel alone to small communities and schools to educate rural women and girls about the benefits of using pads rather than clothes. Despite the harsh circumstances and the reluctance of netizens, I did my best to improve the lives of rural women. I run hygiene camps on a regular basis to create awareness about proper hygiene habits during periods in order to keep people healthy. I counsel them on the appropriate diet plan to follow, workouts to do, and motivate them to speak openly about it. Apart from my own area of Jharsuguda, I am currently organizing these camps in other districts such as Sambalpur, Raygada, and Kalahandi, where I am receiving a favorable response from the people.”
Simultaneously, on May 28, 2017, Payal established ‘Prashant enterprises,’ a sanitary pad manufacturing plant in Barpan, Jharsuguda district, with a bank loan and some financial aid from family and friends. Initially, she began manufacturing disposable pads at a low cost of Rs 25 each package containing eight napkins, which she used to distribute in her awareness campaigns. However, the expanding landfill caused by such pads pushed her to seek biodegradable alternatives.
Payal has been offering another variety of pads under the brand name ‘Payal Pads’ for the past one year that can be reused for up to 5 years (up to 200 washes) without any wear or tear. These stain-proof eco-friendly napkins are available in a variety of sizes, designs, and colors, with prices starting at Rs 150. Nonetheless, she has made it possible for her clients to resend it for recycling into fibers after five years, in exchange for discounts on their next purchase.
Payal Pads are increasingly popular among local women and a few corporate entities who order these exclusive reusable pads in bulk either personally or through her online portal www.payalpad.com. Surprisingly, in just a year, her sales have increased to 20,000 reusable pads every month. Furthermore, her business has provided employment for other women in her village.
“I hope to one day be able to establish pad manufacturing machines in all districts of Odisha, empowering women in terms of their health and livelihood. I’d like to include more rural women and SHG workers in my endeavor to amplify the impact of my awareness campaign. I long for the day when this topic will no longer be considered taboo, but rather discussed openly alongside other vital issues related to improvement of mankind. I dream for a day where every rural woman would be aware of her menstrual health and live a happy life.”
Payal attributes her unwavering confidence to pave her journey to become ‘the Padgirl of Odisha’ to her mother. The young social entrepreneur was honored with the Prerna Award 2018 and the Ojoswini Award 2019 for her outstanding efforts in educating rural women about menstrual health and overcoming the age-old taboo in rural Odisha. She not only supports her family from her start-up, but also empowers other women to create their own identities.
Payal, we are so proud of you!!