I read an article on BlogHer today called iPads and Maxi Pads: Changing Women’s Lives in Uganda. Alison McQuade (the author of the post) uses the hype around the new iPad to draw attention to a more important issue – that Ugandan girls are dropping out of school at puberty because they have no access to sanitary items (pads, panty liners, tampons, menstrual cups etc). It struck a chord with me today particularly because I’ve just been trying out a new cloth pad. I’ve had it for ages but have been so enamoured with my menstrual cup, supplemented with cloth panty liners, that I hadn’t worn it before today – and I just felt like trying it out. The sock monkey called to me.
Anyway, I digress.
I’ve heard before that many girls in third-world countries don’t have access to any menstrual items, but I was surprised that the solution suggested in the post was to donate to a non-profit group (the Kasiisi Project) who provide disposable pads to the girls. The other group I know of who used to try to combat the same issue was Goods 4 Girls, who provided cloth menstrual pads to African girls (Crunchy Chicken, who ran the group, has since had to let it go – I’m not sure if anyone else has taken up the mantle). The advantage of cloth pads, of course, is that they can be reused over and over again with just a simple washing between wears. Quite aside from the environmental impact, I envisaged the aftermath of introducing disposable pads as something like a less serious version of the Nestle baby powder tragedy of the 1970s/1980s. What would happen if the Kasiisi Project ran out of funds? The girls would run out of pads and be right back where they started.
However, I did a little more research and while I still think cloth pads are a better option, I like the holistic set-up the Kasiisi Project has set up better than the ‘make a pad and donate it’ style of Goods 4 Girls. (Of course, this likely came about because the Kasiisi Project is a well-established non-profit organisation and Goods 4 Girls was a one woman who took donations – so you know, fair enough, you do what you can.) The Kasiisi Project donates Maka Pads, which are produced in Uganda as part of a cottage industry – often employing the families of the girls who will benefit from them. They are made from locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper, using little electricity in production. They can be worn for 8 to 10 hours, much longer than a regular pad (depending on your flow of course), so you use less of them. They’re cheap (US 0.5 cents per pad) for the city women who buy them, but most of the rural girls access them through donation.
Clearly the people behind this part of the Kasiisi Project have thought beyond the immediate need of the girls who would otherwise miss out on an education – they have also considered how to help the community and the environment. If you’re interested, I found this video much more informative than the websites (unfortunately there is no captioning).
Now, don’t think I’m dissing Goods 4 Girls because I’m not. It was still a worthwhile effort, as is the Kasiisi Project – every little bit helps (in most cases). But you know what would be best of all? A combination of their methods, which would, in my opinion, be the best option. Keep up the local cottage industry, but produce cloth pads, which can be reused for a long time. Of course, that then brings up the question – where does the cloth for the pads come from? Is it possible the Kasiisi Project already considered this and found locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper to be the more sustainable option after all? I guess if you had to ship in the cloth over a long distance, that would be a significant impact in and of itself. Also, has the Kasiisi Project factored in the disposal of the used pads?
I may email them to find out. Will keep you posted!