Menstrual hygiene continues to be one of the most pressing issues facing women in developing countries. Here, Thorsten Kiefer looks at five innovative programmes around the globe that aim to raise awareness
Menstrual hygiene continues to be among the most challenging development issues today. Not only do deep-rooted taboos, myths and misinformation create the illusion that menstruation is inherently shameful, unpleasant and weird, but in many developing countries, women and girls often lack access to hygienic sanitary materials and basic facilities (such as toilets, clean water and soap) necessary for good menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
A case study by UNICEF from Burkina Faso revealed that girls often have no safe or private place at school to change their menstrual materials, resulting in an estimated one in 10 African girls missing school during their periods. In India, a report by Plan India and AC Nielsen revealed that 88 percent of women use old fabric, rags or sand to manage their flow, because they cannot access or afford commercial sanitary pads.
Poor menstrual hygiene has negative effects on both the environment and the education and health of girls and women, and can also diminish economic opportunities.
Despite the many challenges, there are economic opportunities in menstrual hygiene. Social enterprises and other organisations around the world are developing innovative business-minded solutions tackling these challenges head on.
Here are five social impact companies and organisations that are changing the lives of women and girls:
Sustainable Health Enterprises
Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) helps women in Rwanda jump start locally owned franchises to manufacture affordable, eco-friendly menstrual pads. Made from local, absorbent and affordable banana fibre, SHE’s go! pads are produced sustainably at industrial scale with local farmers and manufacturing teams, first by producing banana fluff in a central location and then assembling the pads in a decentralised network around the country. This distribution system includes training community health workers on how to provide education to both boys and girls about puberty and menstrual hygiene, and enables them to become distributors and sole proprietors who earn extra income by selling pads.
NatraCare produces organic and natural personal health and hygiene products, including tampons, pads and pantyliners. Many non-organic products contain rayon, a synthetic fibre produced from bleached wood pulp, which creates dioxin, a suspected cancer-causing agent. And according to the proposed Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999, approximately 73,000,000 women in the US use menstrual hygiene products that are yet to be approved by the FDA. Natracare has done much to lessen the environmental impact of sanitary products by producing a full range of sanitary pads and liners made from totally chlorine-free cellulose and bioplastics, which are biodegradable and compostable under the correct conditions, and are safe for septic tanks.
Kindara is devoted to giving women the knowledge and support to understand how their fertility works and take ownership of their reproductive health. Kindara’s Fertility app for iPhone and Android has helped tens of thousands of women get pregnant faster, or avoid pregnancy naturally, and better understand their cycles. Kindara’s second product, Wink, is a Bluetooth thermometer that allows women to seamlessly track their data with greater ease and accuracy. The Flow is a similar app that helps women understand the phases of their menstrual cycle.
Lunette is a Finnish producer of menstrual cups, which are user-friendly, hygienic, reusable, and ecological alternatives to pads and tampons. In the UK, the average woman uses approximately 11,000 disposable pads and tampons throughout her lifetime, and 2bn sanitary protection products are flushed down the toilet a year—which is responsible for 75% of all cases of blocked drains and results in removal costs of £14bn each year. Menstrual cups can be used for up to 10 years and thus dramatically reduces amounts of waste. Other menstrual cup companies include Diva Cup, Ruby Cup and Soft Cup.
AFRIpads is a social business in Uganda that specialises in the local manufacture and global supply of cost-effective, reusable sanitary pads. By manufacturing the sanitary pads locally, they are contributing to the development of a Ugandan rural industry that empowers its 90% female staff with productive employment. And what’s more, AFRIpads is the recipient partner for a number of ‘buy-one-give-one’ programmes with sustainable business enterprises in Canada, Australia and the US, such as Luna Pads’ One4Her, Moxie’s Pads for Pads and THINX’s Power of the Purchase programmes.
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All of these organisations are part of a global programme that was initiated by WASH United in 2014: Menstrual Hygiene Day, 28 May. This year more than 290 partners, including global and local NGOs, research and academia organisations, joined the Menstrual Hygiene Day partner coalition to raise awareness about the importance of good menstrual hygiene management for all women and adolescent girls. Partners organised over 100 events in more than 30 countries worldwide.
First published by Forbes