BY VIRTUE of their gender, women of childbearing age have to deal with an additional expenditure that their male counterparts don’t — buying sanitary napkins.
For women prisoners, this cost is borne by the government. To reduce that burden, Rotary Club is working with Prisons Department on a project to make biodegradable sanitary napkins that are cheaper.
The pads are being made by women prisoners for their own use. It is aimed at reducing the cost of buying sanitary napkins that now stands at about RM44,748 per year nationwide.
Usually, sanitary pads cost 50sen per piece but under this project, it costs less than 20sen.
Petaling Jaya Rotary Club president Usha Gopalan said the programme dubbed, “The Golden Women Project” saw the club setting up a workshop at the Kajang Women’s Prison (KWP) grounds in Selangor.
Manufacturing of the pads started in November last year.
Prisoners can make up to 170 pieces of pads a day of various types.
The sanitary pad-making workshop and project were officially launched by Rotary district governor Lioh Cheng Lim, KWP director Asst Comm Lim Kim Mooi and Usha.
Also present at the launch was Asst Comm Supri Hashim who attended as the acting head of Prisons Department’s policy section.
He said the club’s contribution was welcomed as sanitary napkins were in short supply.
“We have 4,577 women prisoners nationwide.
“As such, this sanitary napkin project, the first of its kind for prisons in South-East Asia, is a great help to the department.
“We hope to see similar workshops set up in other women’s prisons in the country, ” said ACP Supri.
A KWP spokesman said there were 1,452 inmates at Kajang Women’s Prison and usually each was given three sanitary pads at a time.“Prisoners are required to register their daily requests for the sanitary napkins in a record book, ” added the spokesman.
The idea for the project came after Rotary Club members visited Bangalore in Karnataka, India.
They were informed by the Rotary Club of Bangalore about an entrepreneur from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state in India — Arunachalam Muruganantham, who found a way to manufacture sanitary pads for less than one-third of the cost.
Usha later visited Arunachalam’s factory in Coimbatore where it was agreed that the trade would be taught only if the venture was a service and not a profit-making business.
“We had to write an official letter to state our intention. Upon our return, we presented the idea to Prisons Department last year, and the authorities were very receptive to it, ” said Usha.
The club then sponsored the machinery to set up the workshop at KWP. The machines and raw materials cost about RM21,000.
“We will continue supplying raw materials like pulp paper, polyethylene folder, gum and non-woven paper to the prison for a year.
“We want this project to be sustainable but we will need to monitor the situation and obtain proper data before deciding on the next course of action, ” said Usha, adding that it was still too early to gauge the project’s success.
After the opening ceremony, guests were taken on a tour of the prison facilities such as the childcare centre, clinics and herb garden, besides the areas for frozen food manufacturing, batik painting, handicraft and sewing.
The visitors also sampled curry puffs, doughnuts, cucur badak and a variety of biscuits made by inmates at the prison.
ACP Lim said the department recorded RM100,000 sales from its frozen food section alone last year.
She said they had an established network of distributors and customers for the food products marketed under the “My Pride” label.
On revenue obtained from food, handicraft and batik sales, she said half went into a government trust fund to be channelled to vocational programmes in correctional facilities while the rest went to inmates working at the workshop.
Guests at the launch were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the items, which were sold cheaply.ACP Supri and ACP Lim said research was carried out by the department to ensure profits from the products were enough to sustain their vocational programmes.
The prices for products produced in prisons was last increased in 2017.
ACP Supri said the prison workshops were not profit-driven but a means to help inmates with rehabilitation and be productive as well as a form of vocational training for them.
“Once a prisoner is trained and rehabilitated, the likelihood of her returning to prison again is reduced, ” he said.
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