A Different Type of Training
When One Acre Fund’s field officers in Webuye, Kenya met with farmer groups in January 2015, they had more than the usual planting trainings to deliver. All 49 field officers (both men and women) in the district were on a mission. Their goal? To explain the benefits of AFRIpads reusable sanitary pads, which were selected after in-depth evaluation by our product innovations team as a product farmers could choose to purchase on top of the standard One Acre Fund package.
Webuye district was the site of our first farmer trials for reusable sanitary pads. The So Sure Pads, made by AFRIpads, have a lot to offer: at only $6 USD, they come in a pack of 4 pads, can be used for 12+ months, are highly absorbent, are easy to wash, and dry quickly. They offer women and girls a more sanitary option than cloth materials, and for those who can afford to purchase disposable pads, AFRIpads also wind up being more cost effective than purchasing expensive disposable pads every month.
Introducing Reusable Sanitary Pads
After hearing their One Acre Fund field officer explain the benefits of reusable sanitary pads, Pamela and Francesca, two female farmers in Webuye District, immediately signed up to purchase them. Both women are experienced One Acre Fund farmers with extensive practice using the improved planting techniques learned in One Acre Fund trainings and strong track records of improved harvests and increased incomes. Yet this was the very first time either woman had stopped to consider how reusable sanitary pads could also improve their productivity and incomes.
Pamela lives close to a main road in Webuye. Until now, she had relied on disposable pads, spending 200-220 Kenyan shillings ($2-2.25 USD) each month. “I dreaded my periods would start at a time in the month when I didn’t have money to purchase pads,” she recalls.
For Francesca, disposable sanitary pads were a luxury she often couldn’t afford. “During the hunger season, I had to make a choice between either buying food or sanitary pads. In most cases I could not allow my children to go hungry, so I would buy food and then cut pieces from old clothes and blankets to use as pads,” Francesca explains. “Sometimes, I would not join other people or visit my friends because I worried that I smelled or might leak. I stayed in the house alone the whole day.”
Lack of access to adequate menstrual hygiene education and products is a barrier to the health and freedom of women and girls. In our research, 62 percent of One Acre Fund farmers report using ‘traditional materials’ during their menstrual cycles, such as cloth, pieces of blankets, mattresses, or cotton wool. Many women go through their day fearing that these materials may leak, or worse, fall out, while they’re in a meeting or working in their fields. On average, One Acre Fund farmers can afford disposable pads 43 percent of the time. But during the hunger season, disposable pads represent a big expense; many choose to spend their extra cash on food or on school fees for their children.
The issue affects the potential and productivity of girls in school as well. Farmers’ daughters will often skip school if they don’t have pads to use, or sit in class distracted and unable to focus because of embarrassment. One woman told a story of how, as a young girl, “one time I didn’t have money, so I used cotton. It distracted me and was uncomfortable. I was in class, anxious, and the teacher asked me to go to the front of the room. I was too afraid and I didn’t go. The teacher slapped me – it ruined my relationship with the teacher and it was hard to get anything from the class. I would make up stories to skip and school.”
When One Acre Fund set out to tackle this issue, we started with evaluating every option on the market. There are many terrific products out there, but what would be most comfortable, hygienic, affordable, and feasible to deliver to our farmers? We came up with a few ideas, and then used direct farmer testing – women are happy to try something new – to find out. We determined that reusable pads were recognizable because all women are already familiar with disposable pads, more hygienic than menstrual cups since many farmers do not have running water, and more affordable and efficient than a year’s supply of disposable pads, which generates a huge amount of waste in places without a waste disposal system. With AFRIpads selected as our best option, our goal was to offer reusable sanitary pads at full-scale, across all One Acre Fund districts in Kenya.
Farmers in Kenya were surprised to see One Acre Fund branch out into health products. Even though most One Acre Fund farmers had never heard of a reusable sanitary pad before, One Acre Fund sold a whopping 2,000 packets of pads in just two weeks! Unsurprisingly, female farmers were eager to purchase the pads, and male farmers also bought them for their wives and daughters.
We visited Francesca and Pamela in June, several months after they received the reusable pads they’d purchased. Happily, their plentiful harvests were getting them successfully through the period of the year they used to refer to as the hunger season.
“I love these pads. They feel dry and comfortable, and sometimes I forget that I’m even wearing them because they are very light,” Pamela told us. In just two months of not purchasing disposable pads, she was able to save 400 Kenyan shillings (about $4 USD), which she put towards the purchase a chicken. She hopes investing in poultry will generate more income for her family.
Francesca is also very happy. She feels comfortable in the pads and no longer feels confined to her home for days out of every month. She has told the women she knows about the benefits of reusable pads and hopes they’ll purchase them from One Acre Fund as well.
Pamela and Francesca weren’t the only farmers who felt AFRIpads had made an improvement in their lives. A farmer survey we conducted found that 97 percent of women felt the pads were better than what they had used previously, and 88 percent would ‘definitely recommend’ them to friends. One Acre fund is still finalizing a randomized control trial to better understand the economic and quality-of-life impact of reusable sanitary pads, but we know this product is popular with farmers.
One Acre Fund Kenya will be offering reusable pads to all farmers and staff (who have been asking for them!) in 2016. We're eager to hear more stories about the positive impact these pads will have for females farmers and their daughters.