Reusable, cheap, biodegradable sanitary pads in Kisumu

by Amref Health Africa

Innovation for World Menstrual Hygiene Day on Saturday

• To address problems, including environmental hazards, a feminist group has created cheap, reusable, biodegradable pads in Alendu.

•The new pads use different materials to make four layers that can be washed, dried and reused. BETTER PADS: Sewing of reusable sanitary towels STADA in Kisumu’s Alendu area.

And so a feminist rights organisation has created low-cost biodegradable pads in Kisumu county’s Alendu area.

The group Stawisha dada (Stada) focuses on equality and justice for women and girls. They started distributing more than 10,000 packets.

Women have limited disposal solutions beyond trash bins and pit latrines, so they wrap the pads, rags or whatever they use in plastic bags so the contents are not seen.

The plastic inhibits decomposition and makes cleaning latrines difficult.

Most schools and families use pit latrines and the used products are thrown into the pit

The organisation works in areas where Unicef’s Wash (Wash, Sanitation and Hygiene) initiative operates.

Orao began to question if they were advancing environmentally friendly practices or were part of the problem.

“We asked ourselves where were these sanitary towels going to after use. We decided to do a reusable sanitary towel to address the environmental issues at the same time keep the dignity of the girls and women”

They started mapping local resources, worked with teen mums they’ve helped, and sold the idea to partners.

SMART BUSINESS: Patricia Orao, CEO and founder of Stada.

“So we have the partners purchasing from us and we give reusable pads to schools across and also offer health and hygiene talks.”

Women ask how they wash reusable sanitary towels where there is no water or very little.

Orao said they have partnered with other organisations so they can repair broken pumps, drill boreholes in communities and provide water tanks in areas they provide the pads.

They have their own drilling rig.

Before repairs and the drilling is done, they welcome applications, check them out, do a physical study and later do the work free of charge.

“We are also able to offer water to communities so lack of it isn’t a reason people don’t use reusable towels,” Orao said.

The organisation is using three different materials to make the four-layer absorbent reusable pads.

It’s difficult to get the materials to make reusable pads.

They are importing some “so we have to give quality since we are a social enterprise and it’s not for profit. We also need to sustain our teen mums whom we employ.”

Imported materials are too expensive and it’s hard to maintain the centre.

They are looking for different materials and call on everyone to support local artisans to come up with solutions within the community.

They wee a future where their centre will be able to employ many teen mums, most of who dropped out of school and need to support their children. Some got pregnant because they traded sex for pads.

Call to action

As the world celebrates Menstrual Hygiene Day on Saturday, Orao said girls drop out of school due to stigma and shame for lack of adequate pads.

“It’s unacceptable to live in a community where girls cannot access basic human rights.

Everybody needs to love the environment more than they love the convenience of using a pad and disposing of it without questioning where it’s going.

Some end up in rivers, drains and places they shouldn’t be, so we need to adopt environmentally friendly practices and go with reusable sanitary towels, Orao said.

Menstrual Hygiene Management(MHM)

USAID is implementing the Western Kenya Sanitation Project (WKSP) which focuses on the sanitation and hygiene part of menstrual health management.

Neville Okwaro, the USAID in Menstrual Hygiene lead in WKSP, said they will look out how to strengthen the market for both sanitation and MHM. They want to link manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers and users.

“We’ll identify gaps in products not reaching users and start from the perspective of users’ preference,” he said.

He added, “This is because in the absence of varied products they end up using whatever is available… feathers,  papers and even dried cow dung, amongst others.”

In Kenya, MH Day has been commemorated since 2014 in various counties. The focus is on breaking taboos and ending the stigma surrounding menstruation.

The idea is to raise awareness about challenges in accessing menstrual products, educate about menstruation and period-friendly sanitation facilities, and mobilise the funding required for action at scale.

They want to counter the narrative that MHM is just about distributing pads. It’s not sustainable. Distribute a few products, take photos and disappear. You haven’t solved the problem.

Okwaro said this is why they have they have adapted the market-based option because it’s important for businesses to grow and link to users.

“We find what supply gaps are already there and we work with the government to ensure there is ease of doing business within the county.”

“The intention is to have affordable and accessible products that are coherent with the culture of that community.”

They will assess the market based on the products already existing, which products users prefer, their access to them and whether they are affordable. 

Otherwise, they will still use unsafe ways of managing menstruation.

“USAID will bring actors on board to look at all the products out there, which are missing that we can support the private sector to obtain,” Okwaro said.

He said they will work closely with women’s groups and youths to look at innovations that can be incubated and scaled up so they can get varied options and products for waste disposal.

He said they will also consider if they can scale up the biodegradable option, which is not produced in quantity.

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