SHE's A Family Affair

Since this summer, I have been meeting with hundreds of schoolgirls all across the Kayonza district, the site of our industrial-scale pilot. I realized they all share a common experience regarding menstrual hygiene management while at school that I am sure you would find interesting:
  • I visited 10 different schools, yet all the girls said currently available menstrual pads are expensive. They even devised a pricing strategy – that the price of pads should be proportional to the number of pads in a package = one pad for 100 RWF.
  • When it comes to product choice, the girls don’t have any choice what type of menstrual pads they would like to use. Only one imported brand is available at the nearest shop.
  • The one imported brand that is available, however, doesn’t meet their full expectations. Many girls complained that the pads don’t stick well to the underwear and that 10 pads/pack are not enough for those who have a heavy flow.
  • There’s still a huge desire for menstrual hygiene education. The girls realize that they don’t know the full story when it comes to menstruation and proper hygiene management.
Despite lack of reliable access to menstrual pads, the schoolgirls are still active. I enjoyed learning about their lives outside of school: some of these girls play football and are members of the school team; others are members of dancing clubs.

One story that Nyiraminani, a 15-year old student at Gs Gishanda, shared with me shows how girls overcome the menstrual taboos is by being entrepreneurial! Her parents provide her pads while she’s at school, but during the holidays, she has to use cloths. Nyiraminani works hard to please her mother, in return to earn money that she can use to buy pads during the holidays.

“During the holidays we look for a way to get pads. We help our parents with chores in order to earn money. Therefore, I get up early to go to fetch wood, then I cut grass for the cows, and I cook. In the afternoon, I sweep the ground and clean dishes. After I complete all these chores, I sit with my mother and she says that I am a good girl and that I work hard. Then I feel comfortable asking her for money, even though I don’t say it’s for pads, and she provides it to me.”

SHE's a family affair - we are talking to girls and their mothers, some of whom are also our banana fiber suppliers.
On the other hand, when I talked to Mama Fasila, one of the banana farmers who are part of our banana fiber supply partnership with the Kamara co-op, she told me that many young girls are still afraid to request money for pads. She remarked, “Girls don’t dare ask money for pads from their fathers when the mother is absent. They will just stay at home, miss school and wait for their mothers to return and ask on their behalf.” As we discussed, Mama Fasila told us that many mothers don’t initiative the conversation to discuss menstruation with their daughters. They assume that they will learn about this at school.

While SHE’s industrial-scale pilot will be centered at the school level, insights and buy-in from parents, especially mothers, is critical to ensure our success. I look forward to learning more from the mothers, which is my next project.


- Gerardine, Junior Marketing Officer

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