February 2014 was when I read my first article about the need for feminine hygiene products in the developing world. My blog post, The last taboo – Menstruation, written in April 2014 has been the most viewed of my posts as well as the post that has generated the most traffic from international viewers. There has been an explosion in international awareness of this problem for girls and women and this awareness has driven incredible innovation in a short amount of time. Along with an increase in feminine hygiene products for the developing world has come a breakdown of barriers around the discussion of this taboo subject. Both of the organizations described below provide an educational component to their work, teaching young girls about their bodies and how to safely care for themselves.
Aakar Innovations in India has developed a disposable pad using agricultural waste. This pad is biodegradable as most rural villages lack proper sanitation. Aakar has recently expanded to a “business in a box” model in which others can purchase the equipment needed to set up their own small business. Twenty one such small businesses are now operating in India and one in Kenya. This business can provide employment for 15 women and produce 2000 pads a day.
SHE in Rwanda has been using the refuse from banana growers to create absorbent, biodegradable disposable pads. In the past growers had no market for the used banana trees, but now they are being paid for their waste. The factories are locally owned franchises that employ local woman and sell a superior, less expensive product.
So what does all of this mean for Haiti? It allows us to collaborate with these organizations as well as other NGO’s already in Haiti to bring women choices for feminine hygiene. Just as in a developed country, not all women use the same product throughout their reproductive life. Haitian women may not have as many choices as the aisle in Target, but they should have a choice between reusable and disposable. And the disposable product should not be an environmental problem (it can take hundreds of years for a plastic pad to decompose).
Helping Haiti Work, a non-profit I started in 2012 to give Haitian women microloans, is exploring the possibility of starting a new venture that would produce these disposable pads. We are using nursing students to trial both the reusable and the disposable pads and give us feedback. Hoping that we are the first menstrual pad factory franchise in Haiti!