When asked what was the top most concern for women in Pakistan – I was told it is women’s health.
When it comes to maintaining women’s hygiene in Pakistan, there are two challenges. Firstly, access to the sanitary napkin. Women know about sanitary napkins. They are sold in supermarkets and stores. Most of these are imported from overseas. Most of women do not go out to buy these, especially those living in small towns and villages. They don’t go out without being accompanied by their husband or a male relative. The only way they could obtain sanitary napkins is when their husband buys the napkins for them.
Secondly, women do not talk about menstruation. It is a shame to talk about such private matters. Regardless of economic or religious backgrounds, menstrual blood is associated with filth. With such a psychological barrier, how could women ask for help to take care of their hygiene?
However, the challenge of access is greater than the psychological challenge. So in 2007, after careful thinking and planning, Care Channels decided to start on the sanitary napkin project.
Pressed cotton in rolls produced in Pakistan are used. Pressed cotton are cut into 18 inches long layers. Three layers are pressed together and wrapped in a gauze to make a piece of sanitary napkin. Ten pieces of napkins are packed into a plastic packet. Each packet is sold for about S$2.
Care Channels also makes strip cotton belts which are sold with the napkins. Sometimes CC also makes simple cotton underwear to sell which the women will use.
CC has five women making napkins from 8am-1pm, Mondays to Fridays. These workers are between 16-30 years old and come from various churches. Their parents approach CC to employ them as they know CC provides a clean and safe environment for their daughters to work in as most of them are single women. Lubna, a young woman in her 20s is their supervisor. She starts every morning with devotion and prayer.
CC supplies to five hospitals which include Christian hospitals in Multan, Sahiwal and Taxila.
Fifteen sales ladies who come from various churches go on door-to-door to sell.
They go out to sell only during the time of the day when women are at home. On average, they sell 10-15 packets a day. What they sell in a day will give them enough for two meals for their families.
They are trained to explain the benefits of using the sanitary napkin and are cautioned not to enter homes which do not have any women folk. They are also told not to eat or drink anything given to them. Their safety is the utmost importance. There have been cases of harassment and the ladies are usually counseled by Lubna or another female worker.
CC goes to ten girls schools a year to talk to the girls about women’s hygiene and to encourage them to use sanitary napkins. The teachers and administrative staff of the schools are very supportive. But some school girls tell us they have difficulties in paying their school fees and would not be able to afford sanitary napkins.
Helping women to overcome the challenge of inaccessibility to sanitary napkins by selling door-to-door is difficult. The biggest challenge is timing. If you knock on a door of a home where women are not menstruating, they are likely to turn the sales ladies away. There is also the hot weather in Pakistan when the heat goes up to 40 degrees Celsius and above. The best time for CC sales ladies to work is during spring which is between February-May, and September-December.
Nevertheless, some of our the committed sales ladies have become extremely good in selling. They have loyal customers they go to regularly and these sales ladies continue to maintain a steady income.
It is so encouraging to see these ladies helping their families. The income they generate is very low, but the sense of worthiness and dignity they have developed in themselves is beyond measure. They are no more just, as they say, “women of the house,” who would do everything they can to run the house, but their labor is taken for granted. Now because of their contribution in the family’s finances they have become an important family member.
Written by Wong Kah Wei