Celebrate Solutions: Tackling Menstruation Through Community Economic Empowerment

By: Rehema Namukose

Menstruation—the mere mention of that word to some people in my country, Uganda, will make them squirm and feel disgusted. Others consider it a private issue not worthy of discussion in public around men. These sentiments have contributed to the many factors that have hindered girls from freely attending school during such times of the month.

In some Nepalese and Bangladesh communities, people still practice backward taboos that depict menstruating girls as outcasts who are deemed unfit to live with others. They are not allowed to be in contact with anyone because they are viewed as cursed, and many such taboos are fueled by poverty. When a girl or woman cannot afford sanitary health care during this period, she will be viewed as dirty, shameful to the family, and to the community as a whole. This is why many girls' low rates of attendance of school have been linked to menstruation.

UNICEF reports that “in countries where menstrual hygiene is taboo, girls in puberty are typically absent for 20% of the school year”. Many of these girls drop out at around 11 to 12-years-old, missing school not simply because they fear being teased by their classmates if they show stains from their period, but also because they are not able to afford sanitary resources that can help them experience menstruation confidently and comfortably. This means they do not have access to pads, sanitation facilities and even education about how to take care of their bodies. Women cannot also work to their full potential because they cannot afford good and cheap sanitary pads.

In support of the International Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th, Women Deliver is pleased to join in the conversation and also celebrate some unique solutions that are not only addressing girls’ and women’s health needs, but have also empowered them economically through business benefits thus improving their lives and the lives of those in their communities in general.

These innovative approaches are holistic because they are embracing local manufacture mechanisms, enhance women’s dignity through the distribution of sanitary pads, training girls and women in menstrual hygiene and are also allowing for better access to education for girls, and women’s employment at community levels:

  • One such innovation is Arunachalam Muruganantham's sanitary pad invention. An Indian national, Arunachalam has changed the lives of rural girls and women by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads. In a country where only 12% of the women population used sanitary pads, he invented over 250 machines and distributed them to the poorest communities of Northern India. Steadily over time, the innovation has been adopted and has spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states of the nation. Women have now taken up the business of manufacturing the pads, branding them and selling them to fellow women. The businesses have impacted their health, generating income for them, their families, and the communities at large. Arunachalam plans to spread his business to 106 countries across the globe, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.
  • The Sustainable  Health Enterprises (SHE)’s approach is multi-faceted; involves advocacy and education, as well as the promotion of a local business model because of the sustainably designed pad. SHE has developed a site in Ngoma, Rwanda to manufacture sanitary pads from banana fiber. In partnership with various women’s networks in Rwanda, SHE has trained 1,329 students and teachers, and has equipped them with new information and knowledge about menstrual hygiene.  SHE also employs community staff in production, and has so far involved 600 banana fiber farmers who supply the raw materials. The site has expanded and hopes to reach 3,000 girls.

Read more about these projects:

Arunachalam’s sanitary pad invention
The Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE)

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