By: MaryBennah Nasimiyu Kuloba, Guest ContributorJune 24, 2016
Hello, IATG community! My name is MaryBennah Nasimiyu Kuloba. I am from Kenya, I am 24 years old, and I went to school at Kenyatta University. I am a 2016 Akili dada Fellow, and am very passionate about working with communities to create meaningful change.
I started working at Barefoot College, Zanzibar last year in September as a volunteer. At Barefoot College, our work focuses on empowering women in communities and promoting women’s leadership development. Our model is based on the Mahatma Gandhi philosophy of solving problems within communities, with the communities themselves; it is through our service in communities that we are able to define ourselves. We provides women space to access to mentorship and workshops on financial inclusion, digital skills, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship, livelihood skills, reproductive health, self-awareness, legal rights and civil society.
While volunteering for Barefoot College, Zanzibar, I started working on a project that works to provide washable sanitary napkins for women. We have been able to reach out to over 500 young women in villages of Kinyasini, Mbuyu Tende, Bumbuini Kiongwe and Makunduchi. We also conduct workshops that empower women to understand their menstrual cycle as well as sexual and reproductive health.
Why do we focus on washable sanitary napkins?
The continuous use of disposable sanitary napkins poses a great risk to waste management and the environment. Seventy percent of the women use clothes as pads. Some use mattress stuffing or old rags, but these products are seldom absorbent, quick drying or secure. Girls use cloth and fold it into their underwear, then try to move carefully so the cloth will not shift or leak. In order to improve the experience of menstrual management, we provide washable sanitary napkins. They are effective in absorption, comfort, and security. There is no significant obstacle with washing, drying, or caring for the pads, because they come with a small pouch.
Young women face adversity and difficulties during menstruation.
Some will engage in child labor and prostitution in order to buy sanitary napkins. They therefore skip school, drop school, and lose 4 -5 days each month—equivalent to 36-45 days per year. This contributes highly to low economic output among the women in the community, due to the lack of education and failure to secure employment. The provision of sanitary napkins will help to reduce pregnancies by eight percent, because some of the girls are forced into unhealthy sexual practices, such as the exchange of pads for sex. It will also increase the ability for women to make better choices, because they will be empowered in their menstrual health rights.
Girls use 20%–25% of their monthly allowance for sanitary care; a box of sanitary pads will last a month and costs less than one US dollar. In Zanzibar, it cost 0.9 USD (minimum cost) for a packet of disposable sanitary napkin per month, and in a year, women would have to spend around 10.2 USD. The washable sanitary napkins can last up to 75 washes, or 2-3 years. Women will be able to save a significant amount of money through the use of these washable sanitary napkins.
Our biggest success this year was in distributing 500 washable sanitary napkins to women in the community. Because of this project, 500 young women will be able to stay in school. Education is a basic right for every child, but in my community, young women have not been able to access education due to various challenges, including menstruation.
Through this project, we aim to reach out to more women in the community, and to bring back their confidence, dignity and self-confidence. We believe that women’s empowerment should be part of our everyday agenda through inspiring and mentoring young women in our community, supporting women in leadership, and making fair and just regulations involving women.
This experience has given me a better understanding the needs of the community, learning and unlearning through the process to be able to reach out to more people in the community. To learn more about how you can support this project, visit Barefoot College.
Girls all over the world are pursuing their great ideas to help women succeed. How do you contribute to the global conversation? You can make change happen. Your ideas matter - don't be afraid to pursue them!
About MaryBennah Nasimiyu Kuloba:
Mary is a 2016 Dadas Ignite fellow and is now planning to expand her work to reach high school girls in Zanzibar with a project that will teach them how to make re-usable sanitary towels. The fellowship program will run for one year and it provides financial and mentoring support as well as create resourceful platforms for young women with a social change project.