This is a photo of Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. As you can imagine access to proper sanitation in places like Kibera is poor.
There is no running water or toilet facilities, residents dispose of excreta in plastic bags (so-called flying toilets). Access to menstrual products and the facilities to dispose of them correctly is rare, and the cost is often prohibitive to women and girls in places like Kibera. Making periods quite literally unaffordable! Women use old rags, bits of paper, leaves and other unsafe materials, which puts them at risk of developing infections. Girls will often skip or drop out of school entirely due to a lack of menstrual products and the fear of leaks. They can miss up to 20% of their education solely down to lack of menstrual products. Cultural stigma surrounding menstruation is prevalent, issues around periods are simply not talked about. The necessary sex-education isn’t always there, leaving some girls taken by complete shock, fear, shame and embarrassment at the time of menarche. This poses yet another challenge for women in places such as Kibera.
As an ethical company with sustainability at its core, it was important to us that our work in the charity sector was sustainable, effective and most importantly informed and lead by the population we were serving.
Tackling issues around sanitation and access to menstrual products in places like Kibera is complex, with many economic and cultural factors at play. Access to menstrual products is of limited help if you don’t have the supporting infrastructure, such as bathrooms that offer privacy. A water supply for washing and places to properly dispose of sanitary items if they are the disposable kind.
You also can’t manage your period effectively if you don’t understand what is happening, and don’t have access to basic information about reproductive health. Education is key!
The challenge was how we as a company could establish a way of working with an underserved population of women, which would not only meet their needs for menstrual care products, but would also empower them and their communities. Following another of our key values – collaboration! We work extensively with organisations, large and small, to offer sustainable solutions. Importantly, the partnerships we form are with projects that are multifaceted and community based. We work directly with individuals on the ground, to identify key areas and the most effective ways we may be able to help. Listening to what is needed, over what we may think they need!
We always supply menstrual products along side menstrual health programs, this means that the women and girls receive education on their reproductive health and support on how to use/care for the products. Education isn’t just about reproductive health, it’s also about opening up dialogue and breaking down taboos and stigma’s around menstruation in communities. The projects that we support also aim to create the supporting infrastructure such as building school toilets or creating access to water, which is essential for creating long-lasting change.
This kind of holistic approach allows us as a company to use our resources most effectively to create sustainable change!