For women across the world, going on a period is a normal regular occurrence. But for many girls in Uganda from the poorer communities, menstruating is something that comes with great consternation.
“I got my first period when I was 14,” 16-year-old Nancy says. “The first time it happened I was really scared. My mother never talked to me about it. Every month I missed school for 3-4 days so other children would not laugh at me.”
Such scenarios are replicated countless times in communities in various developing nations. Girls like Nancy have no access to sexual health information that can teach them how to address this monthly matter hygienically. The prohibitive costs of conventional disposable sanitary wear force many of these girls to resort to using materials like old rugs and newspapers during their monthly flow.
AFRIpads a local social enterprise based in Ntinda, has been working to change this narrative. Founded by Sophia Klumpp and Paul Grinvalds, the firm makes a washable reusable cloth pad that is eco-friendly.
The company story began in 2009 when Sophia and Paul were working for a not-for-profit group deep in rural Uganda. Klump noticed that many girls missed school for fear of ridicule during their menses. They also used mattress stuffing as sanitary wear, making Sophia realise the need for a sustainable solution for many of these girls.
Currently, the firm is working to provide 1 million pads every year to low-income communities in Africa. Additionally, the outfit aims to provide training and employment opportunities to up to 250 people with 80 percent of them being low-income earning women.
The pads AFRIpads makes are highly absorbent and comfortable.
Initially, the firm made its pads available through humanitarian organizations and NGOs it collaborated with, these distributed the pads to schoolgirls and refugees. The company introduced a retail brand in 2015 called ‘So Sure’ that women and girls could access in shops and supermarkets.
According to AFRIpads’ CEO Paul Grinvalds, “Research by Oxford University has shown that girls’ school attendance improves when using AFRIpads and the incidence of urinary tract infections decreases. Our reusable pads also reduce the impact on the environment compared to disposable products. And since they are locally made, we are able to draw local women without formal education into the workforce and provide them financial security”.
To improve consumer awareness, AFRIpads has initiated personal, story-based marketing campaigns. This has seen retail sales triple over the last three years.
The company plans to start constructing a factory in rural Uganda to improve manufacturing operations and bolster production to meet the increasing demand. Additionally, new offices have been acquired in Kenya and Malawi to streamline distribution and access across the region.