Remember the first time you ‘became a woman’, when you first had your menstruation? Your experience largely depends on how psychological preparedness you were and even more importantly if you had the needed sanitary towels.
For most people in the developed countries, that is something you take for granted as most women and girls alike can afford sanitary pads and tampons. For the developing world, the story is horrifically different; a good number struggle to buy these monthly necessities.
In a household where cash is hard to come by, and you consider it is a monthly expenditure for the mother and the adolescent girls in the home. Their menstrual sanitary needs can be something of a sad story.
In Malawi, the sanitary pads and tampons pack cost at least a day’s worth of income, and one would need at least two packs per period. For most, spending two days’ worth of wages per month for a sanitary pad is something you make with a Grinch smile. If you got some girls in the house who have already started having their menstrual periods, the cost of the monthly sanitary towels would be restrictive.
The BBC visited a school located in a town on the outskirts of Blantyre, the second biggest city in Malawi to interview a group of teenage girls. The following is part of their conversation as cited by the BBC:
“Tell me. We’re here to talk about sanitary pads. Do any of you use the disposable ones?”
A row of the girls brave up and shake their head and one raise her hand and says:
“We take pieces of old chitenge and tear them into strips.” Says the brave girl, Benku, a 15-year-old. A ‘chitenge’ is a Malawian women wear worn around the waist and is made out of cotton material. “Then we fold them over and put them into our underwear.”
“That must be uncomfortable,” asks the correspondent.
“Yes,” agrees Benku. “Sometimes I get sores on my legs where the material rubs. And sometimes the chitenge falls out. That happened to me once in class. The boys were laughing. I was so embarrassed.”
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. One researcher at the Blantyre’s College of Medicine, Trinitas has come up with an innovation. She is sewing reusable sanitary pads made out of locally available fabrics.
Trinitas has been conducting a dry run on her reusable pads at the girls’ school, and the response she is getting is impressive.
One of the girls was quoted describing the pads as, “so easy to wash. The top layer is lovely and fleecy, so they’re comfortable.”
The only challenge Trinitas is facing and preventing her from scaling her operations and reaching many more girls across Malawi is a lack of capital. There is clearly a need for this product in the market, but unlike the alternative sanitary pads and tampons, her pads are reusable and washable. That means once bought; it can be used a multiple of times later. Thus, it is cost effective in the long-run and girls will no longer have to skip school during their menstrual periods.
You can read about this in more depth at BBC.