Sanitary pads empower women, and keep girls healthy and in school. Who knew that something so simple could be so life-changing?
In Sierra Leone, most women don’t have a hygienic way of managing their period. They often use makeshift materials like five-pairs of underwear, kitchen sponges or old cloth to manage their menstruation.
Why is this a problem?
Because without access to water and sanitation infrastructure, washing is often done in open water sources full of bacteria. Once washed, the soiled cloth or underwear used for menstruation management cannot be hung out to dry in the sun because of cultural taboos around menstrual blood. This means materials are dried indoors, in extremely humid conditions. As a result, materials cannot dry fully, and women are forced to wear damp cloth- a breeding ground for diseases. Because of the unhygienic nature of these materials, women experience rashes, sores and bruising. Yikes.
Studies have shown that it is because of these problems that when girls have their periods, they can lose up to 12 weeks of school each year.
And that’s where LaunchPad comes in.
Back in 2010, we surveyed women and girls across Sierra Leone to research the issues related to managing menstruation. It was found that only 10% of the women and girls surveyed had ever heard of a sanitary pad. Based on this research, we created our LaunchPad’s project to give women and girls access to affordable, hygienic sanitary products, as well as educating women and girls on menstrual health and hygiene. Because knowledge is empowering.
Since 2011 we have trained up 15 female leaders in 5 rural communities across Sierra Leone, and the capital city, Freetown to sell affordable, biodegradable sanitary pads to women and girls in their communities. They’ve been equipped with business management, financial literacy and menstrual hygiene management training through our partner Restless Development Sierra Leone.
Through selling the pads the LaunchPad Champions are able to make a small profit, raise awareness in their communities about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene training, and ensure that the sanitary pads are available. We also supply our Scholarship girls with free access to pads to make sure their periods never keep them away from school.
LaunchPad in Action
N’mah and the Maworr Women’s Savings Group
These incredible women have taken LaunchPad to a whole other level of epic.
After a couple of years of selling the pads in their rural community of Maworr, two LaunchPad Champions, N’Mah and Aminata (below, holding the box) decided to join forces with other women in their community to scale their impact.
Rather than just keeping the individual profits for themselves, 20 community women decided work together and sell the pads, and pool all their profits together. They put them in a special box and use the collective profits to provide grants to members of the group – whether they use it to pay for school fees, food, or medicine if one of their members becomes sick.
All decisions about grants are made as a group, and no one woman owns or controls the box of profits. It’s such an incredible example of women supporting women – and in turn building up their community!
This wasn’t something we created or asked them to do – this was a solution that came completely from their own initiative, responding to their own needs as they know best. And the best bit? Mah has already gone out and trained a nearby community to start a similar box. This is what happens when you empower women – they empower others.