My Brother: Best Pad Peddler?

August 14, 2009
Nyamata, Rwanda

Most of the time incorrect assumptions in Rwanda have minimal consequences, like assuming the water coming out of the shower would be hot (not cold—yikes!) or the typical fare would be flavorless (instead of spicy garlic—yum!). What’s the worst outcome of that? A little chill and maybe some bad breath.

But today, I was confronted by a situation that challenged this. Julian, our new COO and I went off to the Bugesera district in Rwanda to continue our discussions with our new training distribution partners: Community Health Workers (CHWs). Because distribution channels and associated costs make up ~30% of unaffordable sanitary pad prices, we’re partnering with natural existing networks (e.g., CHWs) that have low transaction costs and will form the backbone of the distribution network for products such as sanitary pads. So when I walked into the room, I assumed we’d meet 10 female CHWs. Not so. In fact, the majority were men. Men? How will they teach menstrual hygiene? How will they sell product? Why am I assuming that they wouldn’t be very successful? Am I right? Isn’t the quietness and apologetic tone around menstruation all across the globe partly driven by the fact that men do not menstruate as Gloria Steinem says?

Julian reports, "Interesting to know is that after several discussions, all were interested in the project, and suprisingly one of the men said ‘ahubwo ubu mbitekerejeho nsanga abantu twarashize’, in kinyarwanda loosely translated as ‘after thinking about the lack of menstrual health and hygiene educ and the fact that women are not using the right materials, we as a community are actually all gone/finished’ meaning they do realize the dangers involved in not having facts about the issue.

Is there a grave consequence to my assumption that women would’ve been in the room this morning? Would we have missed out on powerful male advocates? Distribution partners? What do you think?


Nora said...

I dunno. . . I have a hard time imagining girls in the US approaching men for pads or to discuss menstrual health. . . in East Africa?

I hope it works out, but I'd be concerned.

Jamie Gordon said...

On the whole, I believe that having men as the distributors/educators about pads would not be the most effective method. Do men need to be better informed about and a hell of a lot more respectful of menstruation? Yes. But why should that education come at the expense of the women who need help, who may be reluctant to share this very personal experience with men (and are they strangers?) and for whom some measure of embarrassment may detract from their experience of getting this much-needed assistance-possibly even cause them to miss some of the information they need. I'd rather hear that the education of the men take place as a related, but separate, program.