Wonder Women Who Live Among Us
How Women-Led Businesses Are Tackling Period Poverty
Young girls in African countries have been recorded to miss school on a regular basis every month during their periods. This is because they lack access to sanitary products to help them in their time of need. In South Africa alone, an estimated 3.7 million girls are unable to afford feminine hygiene products, with menstruation-related issues being the leading cause of school absenteeism.
Such statistics have encouraged many African women-led businesses and entrepreneurs to find ways and seize opportunities to create a solution to this hindrance. These businesses and entrepreneurs are doing the best they can, from donating towards buying pads for young girls to creating jobs in the manufacturing and distribution of sanitary pads and products. Let’s take a look at how the fight against period poverty is beneficial to the development of young girls and women in African countries.
When young girls struggle with gaining access to sanitary products, this affects their socio-economic status as well as puts their health at risk. Being unable to afford sanitary products forces our young girls to resort to other unhealthy, unhygienic, and risky measures such as using cloths, cow dung, and even leaves – and these expose them to multiple infections that may cause illnesses and affect their reproductive system in the long run. By donating, creating, manufacturing, and/or distributing sanitary products to these young girls, businesses not only help curb an ongoing struggle but also solidify themselves as allies of young women’s development.
Curbing period poverty is not an easy task, as we have realised, and it is also not one person or entity’s job as there are millions of young girls and women who are in need of sanitary products and education. Even though government officials in many African countries contribute to period poverty, they often tackle remote and impoverished areas only, and select ones at that. This means there is still a huge gap in the supply/demand for sanitary products. However, other businesses and entrepreneurs have stepped in, and below, we will take a look at some of the African businesses that help fight period poverty:
AFRIpads: In order to enhance menstruation health in Africa, AFRIpads was established in a remote Ugandan hamlet in 2010. The company now produces reusable sanitary pads and collaborates with groups like UNICEF and Save the Children. In addition, Girl Talk, a comic pamphlet that describes menstruation cycles in a fun and understandable way, is produced and distributed by AFRIpads.
Qrate: Qrate was established in 2018 by South African Candice Chirwa, a gender activist, speaker, scholar, and author who calls herself the "Minister of Menstruation.”.. Qrate produces educational information about menstruation through multimedia platforms and advocacy workshops. The company believes that through doing this, young people will develop the critical thinking skills they need to comprehend their situation and consider all of their alternatives. A lot of Qrate’s content centres around teaching young Africans about menstrual health and how to understand their bodies in order to combat the stigma surrounding menstruation.
ZanaAfrica: ZanaAfrica, a company founded in 2007 by Megan Mukuria, a Harvard University alumna and pioneer in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) education, uses both sanitary pads and information on menstrual health to address the problem. Since 2013, the company has helped more than 50,000 girls by giving them sanitary pads, and it also offers a secure environment where women and girls can learn about their bodies and health. The Nia Network was established by ZanaAfrica in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to offer free phone services so that women and girls may continue to use the organisation's services.
Sanitary products from women-led businesses and women entrepreneurs are often distributed through the help of schools, churches, homeless shelters, orphanages, and workplaces in an activation-like event which also covers education around periods and menstruation. The aim is to educate as many young girls and women as possible about period health and how they can take care of themselves without needing to resort to hectic measures. Stellenbosch Business School senior lecturer in entrepreneurship, Dr Nishana Bhogal, said, “These entrepreneurs sometimes assume broader activism roles positively impacting menstrual health management. For example, some participated in the Menstrual Health Management Symposium the Department of Women held in 2018, lending their voices to addressing period poverty. In addition, some of these entrepreneurs played a key role in formulating the SABS standards for reusable sanitary products, which enable entrepreneurs who manufacture reusable feminine hygiene products to compete for government tenders to supply impoverished schools”.
The future is bright, women-led, and empathetic. Take a look at The 2023 Women’s Report which focuses on women’s entrepreneurship and the development of their businesses and communities. It was released on 9 August 2023, which was South Africa’s Women’s Day – a true tribute to the development of our young girls and women.