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.
Link to Kao Corporation News Release:
Link to UNFPA Website: https://www.unfpa.org/updates/unfpa-and-kao-corporation-join-hands-together-create-better-future-vulnerable-ugandan-girls