Indian aid for Syrian women refugees

Oct 6, 2015, 16:25 IST

L'Oréal Paris Healthntrends Women’s Award winner Swati Bedekar’s low-cost sanitary pad innovation will come to the rescue of Syrian women refugees.


Due to lack of access to sanitary napkins, women refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq have taken to using cloth rags, thus raising concerns of sanitary hygiene.  The United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA ) says that there are over 150,000 women and girls of reproductive age in the refugee camps. The use of unhygienic cloth rags is leading to several diseases that rescue workers are struggling to deal with.

However, a unique innovation under the brand name, Sakhi, founded by India-based Swati Bedekar will soon help these women with low-cost sanitary napkins. A UK-based organization, Loving Humanity that has tied up with the UN to work for the refugees in conflict zones, is planning to replicate Swati’s model in those areas. The founder, Amy Peake, currently in Vadodara to study the model, is in the process of shipping 12 machines and the raw material for manufacturing low-cost sanitary napkins in an effort to set up the unit in the coming months. This will not just improve sanitary hygiene in the refugee camps, it will also generate employment and empower women.  

Syrian women

A file photo of Syrian women at a protest

About Swati’s initiative: Swati Bedekar, 51, established Vatsalya Foundation in 2014, which under the brand name Sakhi, manufactures and distributes sanitary napkins at a minimal cost of Rs 2. Thanks to her efforts, more and more women have started to switch over to sanitary napkins from cloth pads. But the revolution posed a new threat. The discarding of used napkins proved to be a challenge in the rural areas. The used napkins when thrown in the open posed a serious health hazard. Swati then worked towards creating an incinerator that would aim at fulfilling three objectives: cost effectiveness to enable increased affordability, easy operation and zero use of electricity. The result was Ashudhinashak, an eco-friendly incinerator made from concrete and clay that could be used to burn the used napkins. It turned them into coal and ash without spreading smoke thus preventing foul odour and airborne spread of bacterial diseases. Today, there are more than 1,000 such incinerators in Gujarat and they have also been transported to other states. They come at a cost of Rs 1,500 unlike the electric incinerators that cost between Rs 18,000 and Rs 22,000. Thanks to Swati’s efforts, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan officials in Gujarat have observed a rise in attendance of girls in schools where the incinerators have been installed. For her achievements, Swati was conferred the L'Oréal Paris Healthntrends Women’s Award in 2015 in the Science and Innovation category.
Swati Bedekar says, “Amy and her team were with us for almost a week. In the refugee camps there, the women are under miserable conditions. There’s no water and very little money to buy sanitary pads.  Amy wanted to replicate our business model there and that’s why she stayed with us to train and learn about our processes, floor operations and working methods.”  According to Swati, the idea is to distribute units in certain parts of the camps where one woman can take over as the leader and guide a team of other women under her to make these pads. “I cannot rule out the possibility of me going and training the women there. A lot of work needs to be done to help the women refugees.”