ANGUL: Women in Chhendipada block of Orissa’s Angul district not only produce India’s cheapest sanitary napkins, but are also spreading awareness among rural masses of reproductive health and menstrual hygiene overcoming age-old taboos and myths.

With a brand name of “Ssodashi”, which in common parlance refers to a 16-year-old girl, the low-cost sterilised napkins are churned out by women of a self help group ‘Sakhi’, supported by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility.

“The napkins, providing an income to the trained women, are sold at Rs 15 for a pack of eight and Rs 26 for a pack of 16,” Prashanta Hota, Assistant vice-president in JSPL, said. A study by a global agency showed about 68 per cent rural women do not use sterilised sanitary napkins available in market, which make them highly vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections, Hota said.

Being the cheapest in India, the napkins have become highly popular in the area with women shedding shyness and unhealthy practices, Hota said adding four more automatic machines are being procured to meet the growing demand.

Hota said adolescent women in rural Orissa generally neglect their reproductive health needs and JSPL’s initiative has two aspects: One is to promote menstrual hygiene management through low-cost sanitary napkins and another to provide alternative livelihood options.

Launched on the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2011, the ‘Ssodashi Centre’, started with the help of local SHG members, has emerged as a successful business story and a source of pride among women.

JSPL’s executie director Rajesh K Jha said the company would raise its budgetary provision for CSR activities to Rs 20 crore next year from Rs 15 crore allocated this year. Like Ssodashi, JSPL-promoted women SHGs have launched a host of income-generating activities like herbal body care named Eco-Spa, jute products (Odi-Fab) and food preservation and manufacture (Chaiti), Hota said.

Another unique programme launched in the area is “Kishori Express”, which conducts regular medical check-up, hemoglobin check-up and awareness creation and nutrition supplementation. In the first phase, Kishori Express plans to cover four Gram Panchayats and would gradually cover all all the 137 villages falling under 34 GPs in Chhendipada Block.