Sanitary pads empower women and keep girls healthy and in school. Who knew that something so simple could be so life changing?
In Sierra Leone, most women and girls don’t have a hygienic way of managing their period. Sanitary pads are expensive, hard to get, and often viewed with suspicion (like the myth that they cause infertility). Instead, girls use strips of cloth, known as ‘pieces’ or other makeshift solutions.
WE’RE TALKING PERIODS
Read our latest report on how LaunchPad is eliminating menstruation
myths in Sierra Leone!
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?
Because pieces are not just unreliable, they can also be unsanitary. Access to water and sanitation is so limited that washing is often done in open, unclean water sources. Because of the stigma of menstrual blood, the pieces are dried indoors in humid conditions to keep the pieces out of sight. More often than not they remain damp and a breeding ground for germs that cause rashes and infections. Yikes.
When you consider the potential embarrassment and shame from accidents and discomfort from irritations, it’s no wonder girls regularly stay home from school when they have their period!
AND THAT’S WHERE LAUNCHPAD COMES IN.
Back in 2010, we surveyed women and girls across Sierra Leone to better understand the issues related to managing menstruation. Based on their responses, we created our LaunchPad program to give women and girls access to affordable, hygienic sanitary products, as well as education about menstrual health and hygiene.
Since then our partners, Restless Development, have trained 70 female leaders — LaunchPad Champions — to sell pads and share their knowledge with the women and girls in their communities.
They’ve lead over 600 women and girls across 34 schools and communities in rural and urban Sierra Leone to be advocates for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights! LaunchPad Champions also receive business and financial management training and are able to make a small profit from the pads they sell. So far they’ve sold more than 22,000 pads, which has not only given them a valuable source of income but also a great sense of pride in helping so many women and girls in their communities!
WHAT ABOUT DIVA CUPS/ MOON CUPS/ TAMPONS?
More than 90% of the women in Sierra Leone have undergone Female Genital Cutting (FGC). This means that they find it incredibly painful to insert anything into their bodies.
Additionally, it is generally considered taboo to use any of these products in developing countries. Virginity is very highly valued and teenage girls do not use tampons or cups for fear of ruining their future chance of marriage. The reliable sanitary pad is a much more socially acceptable option!
WHY DON’T YOU GIVE ALL THE PADS AWAY FOR FREE?
Women in Sierra Leone don’t find hand-outs empowering. We’ve had women tell us directly “We don’t want free things, we want business. We’re business women, work with us.”
This sits well with us at One Girl, as we aim to stimulate the local economy and support change led by women, and LaunchPad helps make this a reality.
The pads we sell are still subsidised, however by taking in a small cut off each of the pads, it does reduce some of the funding pressure on our organisation, thus making the project more sustainable in the long run.
LAUNCHPAD IN ACTION
N’MAH AND THE MAWORR WOMEN’S SAVINGS GROUP
Rather than just keeping the individual profits for themselves, 20 community women decided work together and sell the pads and pool all their profits together. They put them in a special box and use the collective profits to provide grants to members of the group – whether they use it to pay for school fees, food, or medicine if one of their members becomes sick.
All decisions about grants are made as a group, and no one woman owns or controls the box of profits. It’s such an incredible example of women supporting women – and in turn building up their community!
This wasn’t something we created or asked them to do, this was a solution that came completely from their own initiative, responding to their own needs as they know best. And the best bit? Mah has already gone out and trained a nearby community to start a similar box. This is what happens when you empower women – they empower others.