Proper Sanitary Pads Are Keeping Girls in School

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How do you cut the school dropout rate for girls in a remote pocket of Uganda?

And how do you create jobs for village women?

The answer to both questions: sanitary pads.

The story begins in 2009, when 26-year-old Sophia Klumpp and her husband-to-be Paul Grinvalds – she’s from the U.S., he’s from Canada — began working for a nonprofit group in a rural village in Uganda. Klumpp saw that many of the teenagers in school used threadbare rags or tufts of mattress stuffing as sanitary pads. The embarrassment and the fear of an accident kept many of them away from school for the four or five days of their period each month.

That set a chain reaction in motion. Girls who are unable to keep up with school work are more likely to drop out, soon marry and have children. Yet they don’t have the skills (or the time, if they are caring for young children) to make additional money for their family. By contrast, Klumpp says, “Every extra year a girl stays in school, she has a higher earning potential, and for every year of gainful employment, [is] more likely to engage in family planning.”

In 2009, the couple started a pilot project forAFRIpads. They wanted to provide low cost sanitary pads that would allow girls and women to go about their lives with greater freedom and dignity. Their goal, too, was “to start a business that would create employment opportunities for women.”

At first, five women, ages 18 to 20, each sewed about three cloth pads a day — pads that could be washed and re-used. “Then word spread and people started knocking on the door,” Klumpp says. Schoolgirls, young women, the school headmistress and the headmaster, too, all wanted to buy AFRIpads. Today, they’re producing well over 30,000 AFRIpads a month, says Klumpp, “and our volume is growing.”

The number of employees has also grown — to 150, 135 of whom are women. And they are all part of the formal economy. “They have bank accounts at Barclay’s, have savings accounts, are saving for the government pension plan” and are paying taxes, says Klumpp.

AFRIpads remains based in the village of Kitengeesa, located in what Klumpp describes as “a remote little pocket” in Uganda, near the western shores of Lake Victoria and not far from the Tanzanian border. “We deliberately put our roots down here,” says Klumpp, because they wanted to “create a rural economy specifically targeting women.”

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)

Education, Health Care