As a woman, I have of course been following the whole talk about Dr Stella Nyanzi and sanitary pads. It is painful when girls in rural areas miss school simply because they have nothing with which to contain the flow of blood. And, it is a noble venture when people fundraise and collect money to buy sanitary pads they intend to distribute to these rural girls. But, is it sustainable?
Let us imagine that in a rural school, about 30 girls are of menstruating age. That will mean 30 packets of sanitary pads in one month only. By the end of the year, you will have donated 360 sanitary pads.
The next year, you will not continue donating only 30 packets because there will be a new set of girls beginning their menstruation. Following the above figures, this could mean instead of donating to 30 girls, you will be donating to 60 girls. If one packet of sanitary pads costs Shs3,000, for 60 girls you will spend Shs2,160,000. And the figure grows bigger and bigger. This is only in one school, yet there are hundreds of other girls in other schools. Only the government can handle that kind of spending. But, if it is shirking its duty, then we have to help it. The solution will not be found in donating sanitary pads. It can only be found in equipping girls with the skills to make their own.
Long before sanitary pads arrived on the scene, women were using pieces of cloth – even today, many women are still using cloth. The first step a girl must take in making her own sanitary pads is to shun the idea that using cloth as menstrual material is outdated. Just last week, I read a story on the BBC World News website where a factory in India was making biodegradable sanitary pads out of ebyaayi (dried banana bark). The next thing a girl needs to embrace is being self-reliant. The world does not care that you are missing days out of school because of your periods. Take matters into your own hands.
Take a few coins off your break and lunch money and save it. When you have collected Shs10,000, go to the nearest flea market and buy a secondhand cotton bed sheet at Shs5,000 and a secondhand towel at the same price. Wash both thoroughly and dry them; and then, cut them up. Fold the pieces of towel and sew them into the pieces of bed sheets. This is where your sewing skills come into play. If you want, you can sew an outer garment to hold the ‘pad’ which fastens around your knickers with a button. These reusable pads can last you two years, as long as you keep on washing them after each use.
Secondly, we have a problem with disposing sanitary pads. They are not biodegradable so they spoil the environment even if we throw them in pit latrines. With reusable pads, that problem does not exist.
If we are to donate to the cause, donating money towards making reusable pads would probably go much further.