CHANGE leaders do great things, and often that is all we know about them. Here we want to get a different glimpse of the personalities that constitute the development space. Every month we get one leader to answer four questions, not necessarily about their work, but about themselves. This week we catch up with Kathy Walkling, co-founder of Eco Femme.

In a country where menstruation is a taboo subject, an open-minded discussion about environmentally safe sanitary products is almost revolutionary. Kathy, who came to India in 1999,  settled in Auroville and founded Eco Femme almost decade later, has been one of the strongest voices in this space since then. She has been an advocate of sanitary products that are safe for both the female body and the ecosystem.

What started as finding a proper system to dispose sanitary waste turned into a women-led enterprise which is empowering adolescent girls and women across the country and helping them reclaim their bodies. Today, Eco Femme is working towards bringing about environmental and social change by creating awareness about menstrual practices that are healthy and environmentally sustainable.

Small Change: You started EcoFemme way before cloth pad revolution started. Can you describe your epiphany – the moment or experience that led you to embark on this enterprise?

Kathy Walkling: When I came to India, I experienced the sanitary waste disposal issue first hand. The plastic which was either burnt or buried was causing a huge environmental problem. And eventually, to tackle the problem, I started making a low-key production of reusable cloth pads in an informal way at Auroville. I was selling them to the women there and I had people approaching me and asking about it. It was then I realised I had become an accidental entrepreneur.

So an NGO I was working for was looking for livelihoods possibilities for women. This seemed like an opportunity to bring together the need for cloth pads with job opportunities for the women in Auroville.

SC: Why does this cause matter to you? Why now in particular?

KW: My motivation comes from the environment. Nature has always inspired me. We are so embedded and connected to the Earth – if we are not living responsibly then it will ruin us.

When you realise the amount of sanitary waste we are producing and the way it is harming the environment, you feel the need to change. When you look at the numbers, it’s quite shocking to learn how these products are negatively affecting the Earth we live on. But making this shift is not easy.

Cloth pads are seen as regressive so to change that mindset is a challenge. Questions such as “You want us to go back to cloth? You want us to wash the cloth and reuse it?” are often raised. The idea that it’s primitive and inconvenient is something that we need to change. And more importantly if not now, then when?

SC: If you could invite three famous people, living or dead, to your dinner party, who would they be and why? 

KW: The three people I would invite would have to be: Arundhati Roy because her writing is so powerful and I think she is really courageous and an inspiring personality. Eve Ensler who created the ground-breaking Vagina Monologues and has been instrumental in setting an extraordinary example of leadership in action for people, especially women, across the world. And Wangari  Maathai, a remarkable Kenyan woman and Nobel laureate who founded the  Green Belt Movement that stimulated the re-greening of Kenya and neighbouring African countries – a movement largely led by women.

I think these three powerful women together at a table would be an incredibly inspiring combination – a force to be reckoned with!

SC: What would you cook to impress them? 

KW: A delicious salad of fruit and vegetables from the Earth which is an expression of the gift of the Earth.

A campaign to fund reusable eco pads for 500 underprivileged girls, forced to skip school every month due to a lack of access to sanitation and menstrual hygiene products, is currently running on Small Change. To contribute, click here. 

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