In Kenya, over 900,000 girls miss up to 4 days of school when they are on their period because don’t have access to menstrual hygiene products. Despite pads and tampons being zero rated goods (they are not charged VAT), they still remain a luxury to a lot of these girls. The Pad Heaven initiative is trying to address this issue that denies half of the population the basic right to education. They do this by manufacturing low cost, reusable pads and distributing them to girls in schools.
I interviewed the founder, Florence Kamaitha to find out more about her organisation.
What led you to start your own project to provide pads for girls in schools instead of partnering with existing initiatives which were already doing the same?
When I started in 2012, there were not many initiatives providing sanitary pads. I also thought that I would just work with a few schools and get back to my work, until I discovered that the problem was deeper than we all assumed.
How do you make the re-usable pads?
We make them using organic cotton, absorbent flannel and layers of waterproof materials. We also use snap pins to keep them in place when worn.
Do the re-usable pads work the same way as regular disposable pads? basically what makes them re-usable?
Re-usable pads are washable. They are made from material that can be washed and dried for the next month’s use.
How long do the pads last before you buy new ones
They last at least 12 months, if well taken care of.
How and why did you start working with Langata Women’s Prison to make the pads?
When I started, I did not have enough capital to lease a workshop and hire employees. So I approached Langata Women Prison for a partnership and they provided me with a space, women to work with and that’s how we started. I also felt that it was an opportunity for inmates to empower themselves economically while serving their sentence to reduce instances of them going back to crime upon release.
Aside from manufacturing pads and providing them to girls in schools, what else does Pad Heaven do?
We have published a booklet on menstrual hygiene, this is after we realized that menstruation is a taboo and many girls grow up without the correct information.
Re-usable feminine sanitary products are not common, why is this the case and what can be done to make them mainstream?
Actually, women in rural areas appreciate them, as they have always used pieces of cloth to contain their flow. Also the disposable ones tend to be quite costly.
However, in urban areas women still find it hard to wash the soiled pads due to the fact that they are used to the disposable ones.
We need to educate women on the re-usable sanitary pads, its benefits and why they need to start buying the same for their relatives back at home. It is both economically viable and safe to use.
I have heard about a lot of initiatives by NGOs that provide pads to girls in schools but they fizzle out eventually. What makes Pad Heaven a sustainable and long term project?
The fact that we produce the pads makes us sustainable. We do not depend on donations. We partner with organizations who purchase from us and distribute to girls and women all over.