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The Paliyar Tribe And Menstrual Hygiene: Why We Need More Reusable Products During Corona

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita


People across the world are currently living in fear and threat of the Coronavirus. India is one of the worst-hit countries, with 490,000 cases across the country and counting and 70,000+ cases in my state Tamil Nadu. Due to the lockdown and precautions taken by the Government to curb the spread of the virus, there is currently no transport facility available.

All the shops are shut, and near my village in Tamil Nadu, we can’t buy any essentials.


This is especially problematic for women, who can’t even buy sanitary napkins. Menstruation doesn’t stop just because there is a pandemic and the shut shops are proving to be difficult for the women here. This unavailability of a basic hygiene product can prove dangerous when women start using alternatives due to lack of better options.


Menstrual Hygiene, Then and Now


In my Paliyar tribal community, when a woman reaches puberty and has her first period, she doesn’t leave the house for 30 days. During a period, girls usually experience hip and abdomen pain, along with fatigue and nutrient deprivation, so the girl is given nutrient-rich food like egg and castor oil and Ullundu (Urad dal) flour, roasted garlic and palm sugar whilst she is at home.


The Paliyar women did not have access to any form of innerwear in the olden days, especially during menstruation. The solution that the Paliyar tribe’s women deviced is that they used to tie a string around their hip and use a small piece of cloth as a loincloth. Then they took a bundle of cloth, folded it and used it as a pad to keep the blood from staining their clothes.


It is because the Paliyar women used this method to keep themselves clean during their period and because they ate nutritious food that they are in good health even now. There are no complications in childbirth or complaints of infertility, according to the elders.

Image Source- So Delhi


However, in the current age of scientific development and medical breakthroughs, women buy and use sanitary napkins, available in various colors and brands from stores. Although these sanitary napkins are loaded with chemicals which have been known to cause rashes, miscarriages, congenital disabilities and even cervical cancer, they are convenient to buy and use and hence women prefer to use them. They also cause environmental and plastic pollution.


Cloth pads, on the other hand, have gained popularity and a lot of women prefer to use them over chemical-infused sanitary napkins. However, the way cloth is used in most villages by women during their period there is a high chance of urinary tract infections, vaginal infections and rashes if the cloth is soiled and unclean.


Reusable Menstrual Hygiene Products Needed Now More Than Ever

Reusable Cloth Pads | Image Source-ecofemme.org


In this pandemic, when sanitary napkins are not available, a lot of women have gone back to using the old methods of maintaining hygiene during their periods. During such times, it becomes even more evident that sustainable menstrual hygiene products like professionally manufactured reusable cloth pads and pads made from organic material need to reach villages. This will ensure women do not have to depend on sanitary napkins from shops, which have the potential to harm their health.


This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz

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