Fifty girls in Mayange A school in Rwanda have been selected to participate in a new initiative called Be-Girl Pads, aimed at reducing the number of girls dropping out of school by helping them address the challenge of managing their menstrual cycles. In collaboration with the Earth Institute, Be-Girl Pads (an organization led by designer Diana Sierra) are part of a pilot program started in June of this year, which introduces hybrid sanitary pads in Mayange Millennium Village as part of the project’s broader girls’ empowerment efforts.
Currently, over 20 percent of schoolgirls in Rwanda miss school, up to 50 days per year according to World Bank figures, due to the fact that sanitary pads are too expensive. Sanitary pads on the market cost over 500 Rwandan Francs per package (about 75 cents), largely beyond the means of most people, particularly in rural areas where a subsistence, rather than cash-based economy is still the norm. Many girls feel too embarrassed to come to school without proper protection. Once a student misses too many days of class, it is difficult for them to catch up, and dropping out permanently from school is often the result.
The Be-Girl Pads pilot program addresses these issues by introducing reusable hybrid sanitary napkins which can be made cheaply with readily available materials. The nylon waterproof envelope can be filled with disposable toilet paper or a reusable washable cloth. One kit includes two pads, allowing girls to have enough alternatives to change. It’s also recommended to replace the filling cloth or toilet paper every three to four hours.
Consultation with girls and their parents prior to the start of the project revealed some of the challenges they face. Mukankuranga Josiane, mother of one participant in the pilot program, emphasized that before, one sanitary napkin for her daughter cost around 600 francs, which her family simply could not afford.
Stereotyping and feelings of embarrassment among teenagers towards menstruation made the situation even worse. “When I used the cloth, it was so easy for it to fall down or be misplaced. I felt bad. I always have to ask for permission from teacher in order to change” bashfully said Uwamahoro, a 5th-grade girl in Mayange A school.
The hybrid pads are specially designed to address this discomfort and provide proper protection. The adjustable wings can secure and fix the cloth, to help girls stay protected.
Under the pilot scheme, which ends in August, the first distribution of pads is free. The plan is then to roll out the scheme to five other schools in Mayange, depending on the feedback received from the 50 participants and their families. Local manufacture will then be considered, with the added benefit of triggering the development of local small business in Mayange.
“The business potential of Be-Girl Pads is the main reason we choose this innovation. Presently, women who can do sewing in Mayange will be considered to weave the Be-Girl Pads, after all the materials are ready.” said Donald Ndahiro, the Team Leader of Mayange Millennium Villages Project.