Improving Menstrual Health in Rural Kenya
By Alison Woods
Lilypads, a social enterprise set up to provide girls in rural Kenya with reusable sanitary towels, recently completed a trial in the the Homa-bay area, where their product was distributed to local school girls, and training was provided to local volunteers.
These sanitary towels are more affordable and safer than alternatives. Girls who are unable to afford sanitary towels often find themselves improvising unhygienic and inadequate alternatives, such as putting leaves in their underwear, or staying home from school on days when they have their period. Some even end up needing to engage in transactional sex in order to get pads which, in an area with high rates of HIV, is extremely risky.
In February this year, Lilypads ran a successful trial of our product, distributing it to local school girls and getting their feedback. However, during this time we also trained twelve local ‘Lily Ladies’, who can now go into schools and help educate girls about menstrual health, as well as providing information about menstrual products, including our own Lilypads.
One of our new Lily Ladies is Celia, a woman in her mid-forties whose primary work is producing charcoal. She lives in a small house with her three children and one grandchild. Like the rest of the trainees, she was already volunteering with a different organisation who work with orphans, and was clearly dedicated to helping her local community.
Like all our new Lily Ladies, Celia received payment for taking part in the training. The extra income she would get from taking part in the training was of great use to her; assisting with things like paying for water that was imported to her village while it was in drought, rather than having to walk for hours to the nearest natural water source. Many of the other women spent their pay on the costs of sending their children to school or diversifying their diet.
The training lasted two days. One day was focused on menstruation, a topic which many of these women had not discussed previously in medical terms, as well as techniques and approaches of discussing the topic with school girls.
The second day focussed on business skills, such as keeping a log book. It was also meant to be about discussing the advantages of the reusable Lilypad sanitary towel over alternatives, but, understandably, our trainees were often better at identifying the tangible benefits of it to local women than we were. After this initial training, our Lily Ladies went to local schools to put their new skills into action. We were on hand to support them for their first lessons.
Having completed the trial, we have drawn on the feedback we received to tweak our pad and make it ready for a broader launch. By the end of summer our Lily Ladies will be out spreading information about the pad in schools, as well as giving broader menstrual health lessons. In the meantime, a number of them have been using their new skills to go out to various support groups and spread information about menstrual health.
Their level of engagement is a clear sign that there is both a desire and a need to improve women’s menstrual health in this area, and Lilypads hopes to be part of the solution.