CHICAGO—When girls miss school they lose out on their future. Education impacts earning potential, job tenure, martial age and family planning choices. With 250 million girls lacking access to safe menstrual products and the hygienic tools necessary to manage their periods and attend school, keeping girls in school has become a challenge.
Fortunately, organizations around the world are rising to meet this challenge. Four such organizations are SHE (Sustainable Heath Enterprises) Innovates, AFRIpads, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Advocates and Be Girl. Each works to provide products and services that promote menstrual hygiene for girls in developing countries.
SHE Innovates concentrates their efforts on developing affordable and environmentally sustainable menstrual hygiene pads made from banana trunk fibers, a material that would otherwise become waste. The organization also places strong emphasis on putting women in charge of the businesses that manufacture and distribute menstrual hygiene products, ensuring that women have increased access to employment.
Their manufacturing process has met with success, achieving a U.S. patent. The process works by taking unused trunk fibers from banana farmers in developing countries and then cutting, carding, washing, fluffing and solar drying the material at community factories. Finally, the material is made into menstrual pads and marketed to women and girls at prices that they can afford.
Another focal area of SHE Innovates’ efforts is education. Many girls in developing countries are not aware of the best sanitary practices and resort to unhygienic methods of managing their periods such as using mud or rags to stem the bleeding. These practices can endanger girls’ heath. Through health and hygiene instruction, SHE Innovates works to debunk myths about menstruation and fight taboos, empowering girls to make healthier menstrual hygiene choices.
AFRIpads is also working to provide women and girls in disadvantaged situations with access to safe, affordable menstrual hygiene products. A “core objective” of the organization deals with enabling “Ugandan schoolgirls to achieve their full academic potential by improving attendance rates by as much as 25 percent,” by providing effective, financially accessible menstrual products.
AFRIpads works toward this goal by manufacturing menstrual kits of cloth sanitary pads meant to provide menstrual hygiene for an entire year. These kits cost far less than a 12-cycle supply of disposable sanitary pads and are more environmentally friendly. Additionally, the organization employs primarily women, with a 90 percent female staff, and promotes rural Uganda’s economy through local production.
Thus far, AFRIpads has distributed menstrual hygiene products to 500,000 women and girls, providing them with an affordable alternative to disposable sanitary pads.
Water plays a huge role in menstrual hygiene. Without access to safe water at school, many girls in developing countries are unable to properly manage their periods and stay home. WASH Advocates understands this challenge.
WASH asserts: “Without the privacy afforded by these facilities, menstruating school girls and staff often do not feel comfortable using school facilities, resulting in absenteeism 10-20 percent of the time.” This phenomenon results in a devastating impact on girls’ access to education and women’s employment as instructors.
WASH focuses on issues such as the pervasive lack of gender-specific sanitation facilities in schools and limited access to water in the educational setting. They work to instill hygiene practices in students’ daily routines and educate on the importance of sanitation.
Be Girl is another organization reinventing the sanitary pad. Be Girl offers two products that look to improve the menstrual hygiene of girls in developing countries: Flexi-Pad and Panty-Pad, leak-resistant pads and panties that hold traditional sanitary pads or other absorbent material.
The Flexi-Pad and Panty-Pad provide one and two years of coverage respectively, allowing girls to successfully secure any absorbent material they have access to, preventing slips, leaks and staining. The Flexi-Pad and Panty-Pad are easy to wash and dry quickly indoors within an hour to prevent bacterial growth. The Panty-Pad also doubles as a pair of underwear.
Be Girl works not only to provide for girls’ menstrual needs, but additionally seeks to empower them. Their products are manufactured in Colombia by head of household women employees in ethical working conditions. Be Girl Flexi-Pads come with clear instructions printed on them, so that girls are able to comfortably use the product without confusion and Panty-Pads include tags sporting the message “Designed with love for a powerful girl like you.”
Thus far, Be Girl has supplied more than 3,000 girls in Rwanda, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Jordan, Mali, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia with menstrual hygiene products. The organization continues to expand, keeping an eye on avenues to break down taboos surrounding menstruation and empower women along the way.
By providing a means to effectively and affordably manage menstruation, these organizations help to keep girls in school, empowering the young women of developing countries to achieve a better quality of life.
– Emma-Claire Lasaine
Sources: Be Girl, NPR, She Innovates, Menstrual Hygiene Day, WASH advocates, New England Public Radio, World Bank,