EcoSmart Uganda is hosting a Menstrual Hygiene Management Education session online. Menstrual Cramps, Menstrual Disorders, and the Menstrual Cycle are just a few of the sub subjects that will be explored. Hon. Rossette Nanayanzi, who works for the Ministry of Education and Sports, Dr. Elizabeth Kemigisha, a Lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, and Ms. Shakirah Namatovu, our Cofounder and Director, will head a panel of guest speakers. Ms. Lydia Asiimwe, not only our Director but also Cofounder of EcoSmart Uganda Ltd, will moderate the discussion.
This event will take place on September 18, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. and will last only one hour.
Furthermore, if you would like to participate in this online debate about MHM, please register using this link. Consequently, You can refer to the poster for further the details
Uganda confirmed her first positive case of the new COVID-19 pandemic in March of last year as reported by various platforms including africanews.com. As people became increasingly concerned, scared, and panicked, Uganda’s Government decided it would be prudent to place the country on partial lockdown, followed by complete lockdown. While these efforts were credited with greatly reducing the spread of the disease, it goes without saying that they also severely harmed many segments of the public. These draconian measures would be as cruel as they sound in a low and moderate income country like Uganda, where people struggle to earn their daily bread, and where if they don’t work, there won’t be food on the table that day. The government, through the Prime Minister’s Office, launched a food distribution program for such a group of people. Please see the story by New Vision, a daily newspaper tabloid. However, the key question was and remains if food was all that the majority of Ugandans required; what about other essentials like water, soap, toothpaste, fuel, charcoal, clothing, and sanitary pads for young girls and women? We questioned the availability of menstrual hygiene items in light of evidence that various communities lacked access to other services such as a steady supply of water, which would have an impact on sanitation services. According to a recent statement from a local broadcasting TV station (NBS TV), girls in Kasese were exchanging sex for sanitary pads. The story may be followed on the NBS TV YouTube channel here.
Period poverty was and has been a problem in Uganda even before the pandemic, especially in rural regions, which is why EcoSmart Uganda was founded with the goal of making sanitary products more affordable and accessible to this group of people. Despite the fact that the government has prioritized infrastructure development by building thousands of kilometers of road networks as evidenced by the 2021/22 budget here, it is still seeable that the country’s most distant locations are still difficult to reach. How will girls in rural places and hard to access areas get sanitary supplies given the restrictions on the flow of goods and services? How will they deal with their menstrual cycles? How will they be able to access MHM Education in the face of technological limitations?
EcoSmart Uganda has also helped by distributing sanitary kits to less fortunate females in Kawempe Division and Mbarara District. The girls’ excitement and happiness were sheer evidence of how much more work is required of us in such times. In summary, EcoSmart Uganda wishes to acknowledge and thank UNFPA Uganda, KAO Corporation of Japan, and Outbox Uganda for their tireless and crucial support of the company’s operations.
On 28th May, EcoSmart Uganda joined the rest of the world to celebrate the world Menstrual Hygiene Day( MHDay) for the year 2020. This is an annual awareness day to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management initiated by WASH united in 2014. This year, it ran on the theme, It is time for action. To benefit the girls and women as its aim suggests, EcoSmart Uganda embarked on numerous awareness activities and this was mainly through the digital measures due to hindrances caused by the novel COVID19 where it is important to keep social distance and so on. A video enlightening about EcoSmart Uganda celebrating MHDay 2020, and menstrual experiences was shared on the different social media sites. Click here to watch the video. EcoSmart team members aired out their views about the menstrual matters and these are captured in the image below.
EcoSmart hosted a Facebook live discussion led by our Cofounder Lydia Asiimwe who shared about a vital topic; “Citing menstruation as one of the leading causes of school dropout among girls”. She cited that among the 55 schools that EcoSmart had visited in western Uganda, non of them had menstrual hygiene facility and this was a very big setback.In addition, most of the girls missed school during their menstruation periods. Find the video here.
It was evident from the feedback received that there is still a great gap in reaching women in hard to reach areas, our efforts are still aligned to ensure that vulnerable people in hard to reach areas get to also access menstrual materials and education. During these celebrations, we were able to reach out to 2000+ people and engaged over 400 people on our media platforms.
Follow us on Facebook @EcoSmart pads, on Twitter @EcosmartL and LinkedIn @ EcoSmart Uganda for daily and more updates on menstrual awareness most especially in this time of the COVID19 pandemic because periods don’t end with pandemics.
On March 10th 2020, EcoSmart Uganda was privileged to host 14 students from the University of Tottori in Japan. This visit was organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to allow the students an opportunity to learn about Uganda and some of its locally made products.
EcoSmart Uganda is currently supported by UNFPA Uganda and the KAO Corporation in Japan, to develop affordable, disposable and environmentally friendly sanitary pads by up cycling sugarcane fibre. The purpose is to make menstrual health supplies affordable and accessible to girls in Uganda with the aim of equipping them to stay in school and complete their education.
EcoSmart Uganda’s production facility is locatedat the Uganda Investment Authority’s Small & Medium Enterprises (SME) Park, Plot 207, Makenke Kashari- Mbarara District in South Western part of Uganda.
In 2016, Noel Aryanyijuka was a student of biomedical engineering at Makerere University. As part of her internship, Noel and two of her fellow interns were tasked to identify health challenges affecting people in Mbarara district, western Uganda. One of the greatest challenges, they discovered, was around menstruation; girls and women in the community could not afford sanitary pads and were using old clothes and toilet paper during their menses.
Noel’s passion had always been to use her knowledge to develop affordable technologies to help improve the health of people in her community. Meeting these women and girls was that opportunity.
“Together with my team we decided ‘We can make a difference. We can make something affordable for these women and girls’ because we realized that girls were dropping out of school,” she says.
Managing menstruation, a challenge for Ugandan girls
In Uganda, menstruation continues to be shrouded in taboos, myths, and misconceptions, with many girls and women struggling with limited access to hygienic menstrual health products. A study by the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) shows that about 50 percent of girls in Uganda report missing one to three days of primary school per month because of menstruation. Determined to make this right, Noelle teamed up with Suzan Mbabazi, Sam Kazibwe, Lydia Asiimwe and Shakira Namatovu to address this challenge.
Together, they came up with the idea of developing the Eco Smart Pad, a unique sanitary pad, made out of recycled sugar cane residue. “The name EcoSmart was meant to be representative of what we set out to achieve: ‘Eco’ to represent friendliness to the environment and to the user and ‘Smart’ to inspire young women and girls that they were brilliant and beautiful,” Noel, who is the Chief Executive Officer of EcoSmart explains.
With that in mind, the team got to work. They tested and sampled various plant materials including sugarcane residue, maize and sorghum. The idea was to identify low-cost, biodegradable and absorbent material that could substitute cotton used in commercially produced pads. The team zeroed in on sugarcane residue.
UNFPA’s Innovations Accelerator gives Eco Smart a start
In 2017, Noel and her colleagues signed up for UNFPA’s Up Accelerate initiative, whose aim was to explore new ways to tackle pressing sexual and reproductive health challenges in Uganda, while promoting social entrepreneurship among young people.
“We had created what I would call an ugly prototype. We were hoping to get funding to create a viable product,” she says of their decision to apply for the UP Accelerate initiative.
Under the Up Accelerate programme, Noel and her colleagues received mentorship and business training, and were among seven start-ups selected to receive seed funding of $10,000.
With the seed funding from Up Accelerate, Noel and her team were able to formally incorporate Eco Smart Pads as a company. They also conducted needs assessments in Mubende district and Nakivale Refugee Camp to better understand menstrual needs of women and girls, and worked with Uganda Industrial Research Institute to refine and test their prototype.
Building partnerships and expanding
As part of its efforts to support innovation among young people, UNFPA linked Noel with Kao Corporation, that was interested in empowering Ugandan youth. Eco Smart received a 20,000USD (shs 74,000,000) grant from Kao to expand production capacity and refine the pads to make them more absorbent. In addition, the Eco Smart team also receives technical support and mentorship from UNFPA to manage the grant.
“We are proud to work with a vibrant generation of young Ugandans like Noel who are seeking to reinvent the society they live in. At UNFPA we accompany them on their journey of exploration and innovation, supporting them to create the future that they want,” says UNFPA Representative Mr. Alain Sibenaler.
“It started out as simply being able to create a product for women and girls. Along this journey, I have intentionally become more passionate about empowering women. With my engineering background, I am redirecting my efforts to healthcare innovation; engaging with fellow innovators to design products to improve health care outcomes,” Noel says of the boost that the support from UNFPA and KAO has given her.
Noel and her team now intend to reach 1,000 girls with the pads within the first year of production, after which they hope to cover all of Mbarara district. The pads will be provided at about one third of the cost of commercial brands. A pack of six pads, for instance will cost shs 1,000 ($0.3) and shs 2,000 (0.5$) for a pack of 12.
In addition to increasing access to sanitary pads, the team at Eco Smart is working to address other challenges around menstruation. They conduct hygiene research and trainings, educating girls in schools in Mbarara on how to keep clean during their periods, as well as safe disposal of sanitary pads. Noel and her team have also developed Break the Silence Uganda – a guide to using EcoSmart pads that contains information on Menstrual Health Management that they distribute to girls in schools.
“I want to see a new generation where there is no shame clouding menstruation. It is very natural and no one should be ashamed of it. We want to support young women to be confident and happy about menstruation because it is a normal process,” she concludes.
UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) Uganda and Kao Corporation, a Global consumer products and chemical company, forged a partnership agreement on 1st February 2019 to implement a social change initiative of menstrual hygiene management in Uganda. The joint project, “Menstrual Hygiene Improvement Project in Uganda,” is aiming for zero girls missing class due to their menstrual cycle.
Kao will support EcoSmart Pads, Ltd., a startup company that produces affordable and environmentally friendly sanitary pads for women and girls from low-income households and in refugee settlements. Born under UNFPA’s innovation initiative, Up Accelerate, in 2017, EcoSmart Pads are low cost and comfortable to use, and the raw material for absorbent inside is biodegradable. The pads are made from locally available sugarcane fiber, which makes them commercially viable for women and girls from low resource environments. EcoSmart became a strong advocate for a key message on menstrual hygiene management; no girl should miss classes or feel ashamed because of her natural body changes.
According to EcoSmart, in Uganda, many girls live in poverty and cannot buy sanitary supplies. As a result, women and girls may use banana peels, leaves, dirty cloths, or old newspapers as substitutes, which can result in severe infections.
“When you go to schools, you will be surprised to know that some will miss school because they are going through their menstrual periods,” said Lydia Asiimwe, Co-Founder of EcoSmart Pads. Lydia explained that without an efficient method of menstrual management information, products, and facilities at school or in their neighborhoods, girls often bleed through their clothes, which can cause bullying, teasing, or discrimination in school.
Although menstrual hygiene management research has not been conducted at the national level in Uganda, the Netherland Development Organization (SNV) and IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre reported that about half of girls in primary schools from 7 districts (Arua, Adjumai, Bundibugyo, Kasese, Kyenjojo, Lira, and Soroti) miss 1- 3 days per month during menstruation (Study on Menstrual Management in Uganda, 2013). This translates to a loss of 24 days of study annually. Given that the average number of school days per year is 220, the girls miss 11% of their school year because of menstruation.
The same report also highlighted that over 70 percent of girls feel that menstrual hygiene management affects their educational performance, and about 57 percent are absent in upper primary school. These girls often cannot catch up on school curricula and drop out. This increases the likelihood of teenage pregnancy and early child marriage, limiting girls’ future economic opportunities.
Hope for menstrual hygiene management and social change by young innovators
EcoSmart’s product development operation was forced to stop since the end of Up Accelerate. Despite their ambitious vision, EcoSmart’s operation stagnated due to a lack of funding. Thanks to Kao’s funding, however, they can now continue their product development to produce market-ready pads.
Alain Sibenaler, the UNFPA Representative in Uganda is very excited about the cooperation: “Since UNFPA is delivering an integrated package of rights to women and girls in Uganda, it is heartening that Kao Corporation supports social change innovation in one of girls’ basic rights, for example, the right to adequate menstrual health.”
David Muenz, Kao’s Executive Officer and Senior Vice President, ESG Division said; “In Africa where rapid development is expected, we believe that it is very meaningful to contribute to the more sanitary and comfortable lives of people who will be creating the future. Through this project, I hope to expand the possibilities of many young people.”
“The successful implementation of this project will bring to market a menstrual health product that is affordable to girls in our local communities, which will help to achieve gender equality, increase girls’ participation in education, and further their economic opportunities,” said Lydia.
EcoSmart’s ultimate goal is to bring dignity, equality, and vibrancy into the life of every girl in local communities all year long.