SEATTLE — One out of ten girls in Africa will skip or drop out of school because of her menstrual cycle. AFRIpads, a social enterprise based in Uganda, is manufacturing and supplying women and girls around the world with reusable sanitary pads to change this statistic affecting women in developing countries.
Many girls and women in developing countries either cannot afford or do not have access to menstrual products, so they often improvise with rags, foam mattress pieces, toilet paper, leaves and banana fibers. Not only are these solutions ineffective, they are also uncomfortable and unhygienic. Oftentimes, poor menstrual hygiene can lead to reproductive diseases and even death in mothers. Even though women are reusing their improvised products, they don’t always have access to clean water or soap to wash them.
Cultural beliefs and practices can also hinder access to and education about hygienic menstrual care. In many cultures, menstruation is stigmatized, and women are often shamed and isolated during their periods. Some women and girls cannot take part in daily activities such as cooking or praying when they are menstruating because they are considered unclean.
Because girls and women do not have access to proper menstrual products, they often skip school to avoid embarrassing situations like leaks or infections. On average a girl will miss four to five days of school each month, which equates to 20 percent of the school year. When a student gets far enough behind in her studies, she often drops out of school. According to the Global Partnership for Education, “it is estimated that the price of menstrual hygiene supplies is the driver of 36 percent of girls’ absenteeism from school in Rwanda,” and such is the case with girls in many developing countries.
According to the Global Partnership for Education, “it is estimated that the price of menstrual hygiene supplies is the driver of 36 percent of girls’ absenteeism from school in Rwanda,” and such is the case with girls in many developing countries. When a girl drops out of school, she increases her chances of early marriage and teen pregnancy and limits her opportunities to find work and a steady income.
According to AFRIpads, the organization’s mission “is to empower women and girls through business, innovation and opportunity.” AFRIpads are reusable sanitary pads that offer a comfortable, protective, cost-effective solution for women in developing countries so they can attend school and go to work. AFRIpads distributes its product in Menstrual Kits comprised of four pads and a storage bag. The pads are eco-friendly, made from high-quality, natural textiles and last for 12 months. They are also comfortable and easy to use — the pads simply button into a pair of underwear.
Not only is AFRIpads providing women in developing countries with a hygienic, effective solution, it is also creating jobs for women in Africa. The AFRIpads headquarters is in Uganda, and satellite offices have been established in Kenya and Malawi. The company employs women from surrounding communities and trains them to manufacture the sanitary pads, equipping them with the necessary business and technical skills to contribute to their communities’ economic development.
After the women manufacture the AFRIpads, Plan International, a child rights organization, purchases them and sells them at a subsidized rate to local vendors. This practice allows local women and girls to buy the reusable pads at an affordable price, and the vendors make a profit too.
During the last five years, AFRIpads has sold more than 750,000 menstrual kits around the world, which means more girls are staying in school, and more women are contributing to their local economies. AFRIpads has stated that “menstruation should not be a barrier for any woman anywhere. Women are the backbone of our societies, and they deserve access to rise to their dreams and achieve their true potential.” Period.
– Rachel Cooper