In the 2014 Tumaini Awards, child rights organisations in partnership with New Vision are seeking to honour and recognise individuals, organisations and businesses working to improve the lives of children in Uganda.
Today Andrew Masinde examines the contributions of AFRIpads (U) Ltd towards young girls who cannot afford sanitary towels
At sh2,500 a packet, the price of disposable sanitary pads is out of reach for many young girls in Rwensera village, Kibaale district.
The same challenge affects girls from humble backgrounds countrywide, with many of them dropping out of school because of fear of embarrassment at school during menstruation as they cannot afford sanitary pads.
A research done by Eve Puffer, a former postdoctoral fellow, shows that it is common for girls to engage in transactional sex or seek out a boyfriend to help pay for pads or other items like school fees. If a girl becomes pregnant, it is likely she will drop out of school for ever.
Overall, for every 10 pupils who join Primary One, only about three make it to Primary Seven. Of the three in Primary Seven, most of the time, it is just about one girl.
But, for some of the girls in the districts of Tororo and Masaka this is no more, thanks to AFRIpads (U) Ltd.
“It was common for girls to absent themselves from school every time they were in their periods.
Because of the high poverty rates in some of the villages, the parents could not afford the cost of pads,” Lucy Kana, the headteacher of Akadoti Primary School in Tororo, says.
She adds that rather than risk the embarrassment of soiling their dresses in the eyes of her peers or the discomfort of sitting in class all day with a newspaper tacked in between their legs, many girls would choose to stay home.
They would later return to school claiming they had malaria.
“This absenteeism would lead to a decline in performance. Eventually many would drop out of school increasing the likelihood of them getting pregnant or getting married as an early age,” Kana explains.
She adds that because they are unable to afford proper sanitary pads, many girls resort to other materials like old clothing, toilet paper and banana fibre to absorb the menstrual flow.
But AFRIpads has made things better. The factory distributes pads to non-government organisations which sell them to the girls cheaply.
AFRIpads employees making pads at the branch in Kitengesa
The cost of a disposable sanitary pad is sh2,500 but the organisation supplies reusable sanitary towels at sh5,500; which can be used for a period of one year. If the girl menstruates 12 times a year, this means, the disposable pads would cost her sh30,000.
The AFRIpads (U) Ltd’s communications liaison officer, Helen Walker, says in order to reach girls in the most vulnerable segments of society, the company has partnered with non-governmental and community-based organisations.
To date, AFRIpads is working in collaboration with Plan Uganda, UNICEF, World Vision, the U.S. Peace Corps, War Child Holland, African Revival, Girls Education Movement, Norwegian Refugee Council, Living Goods, Marie Stopes Uganda, International Rescue Committee, and Oxfam; among others.
“These organisations have either donated or subsidised the cost of AFRIpads menstrual kits to their female beneficiaries. Over 300,000 girls have benefited from the menstrual kits all over the country since 2010,” Walker explains.
She adds that AFRIpads’ mission is to empower women and girls through business, innovation and opportunity. The objective is to empower Ugandan schoolgirls to achieve their full academic potential by improving attendance rates by as much as 25%.
Walker says: “While the implementation of the free primary education programme in Uganda has improved access to education nation-wide; high rates of menstrual-related absenteeism remain a key barrier to the academic performance of the girl-child, her retention in primary school, and her ability to achieve secondary and tertiary education.”
She explains that by manufacturing an affordable and effective sanitary product, AFRIpads reduces this gender-specific barrier and improves girl attendance and retention rates in primary schools.
“It means that thousands of Ugandan girls now have a product that allows them to manage their period effectively and hygienically, no longer disturbed by the discomfort and infections, uninhibited by the humiliation that previously kept them out of the classroom,” walker adds.
Sylvia Adikin, one of the first beneficiaries of AFRIpads kits, is a former pupil at Akadoti Primary School. She says she always faced challenges whenever she was in her periods; her parents could not afford pads all the time and this meant she had to absent herself from school whenever she was in her periods.
“I was always performing averagely in class because most times I was absent. When Plan Uganda (which works with AFRIpads) introduced AFRIpads in our school at half prices, my father gave me half the money and the rest our senior woman teacher contributed,” Adikin says.
“I was taught how to use the pad and also how to keep it safe so that I do not contract diseases as a result of poor hygiene. Absenteeism has now stopped. I want to study and become a doctor,” Adikin says.
Benefits of the pads
The kits are low-cost, reusable (washable) cloth sanitary pads.
They provides schoolgirls with complete menstrual protection for up to one year at approximately 30% the cost of a one-year supply of disposable sanitary pads. They are comfortable, affordable and environmentally-friendly.
The pads have given schoolgirls protection, confidence, and dignity to achieve their universal right to education.
Walker says AFRIpads is more than just a company with a product. The entire structure is founded on the idea that an innovative idea or product, combined with market-driven principles, is one of the most effective means for achieving social development objectives.
While supporting girls’ education through its menstrual kits is the core objective, the company is committed to stimulating rural employment and economic growth, while upholding a model of environmental responsibility in both product and manufacturing process.
AFRIpads sets up workshops in villages in order to contribute to rural economic development.
“Seventy percent of the employee earnings are reinvested into the family unit and its basic needs, resulting in improved health care, education, and general nutrition for the entire family,” Walker explains.
She adds that being washable makes it the most eco-friendly menstrual product available on the Ugandan market.
This is essential in a country where the waste-management infrastructure is poor and the disposal of commercial sanitary pads poses a major environmental challenge.
The pads predominately electricity-free manufacturing process makes them a leader among environmental, socially-conscious in Uganda.
The entire annual budget is directed into the manufacture, distribution and sale of menstrual kits.
In the past five years, around 20 corporate companies have supported girls’ education by supplying them with the menstrual kits.
“We are planning to expand our project. We want to impact on the lives of half a million girls and women by 2015,” Walker says.