Did you know that sanitary products are one of the biggest unspoken about pollution problems facing the modern world?
1 in 5 pieces of plastic on a UK beach is a tampon application. In the UK we flush 700,00 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million pads EVERY SINGLE DAY.... That's 1.68 BILLION items every year... just in the UK.
And it's not just the applicators - most tampons contain plastic (We didn't know this either until we started doing some research). And the average sanitary pad is made from 90% plastic - the equivalent of about 3 single-use carrier bags.
Providing plastic-free period products to combat period poverty seems like a golden opportunity to lift girls out of embarrassment and shame, whilst simultaneously investing in their future. Having recently declared a climate emergency, Ufulu believes that we should all make this a priority.
Whilst on Likoma, Widge went around the island trying to find which shops sold sanitary products and how much they cost. Sadly she only found three shops selling anything and the choise of sanitary products was limited to one type (and size) of pads.
This photo is of one of the shops that do sell pads. A very nice man called William runs the shop. But imagine you are a teenage girl, who has just started her period - you would probably be too shy and embarrassed to come in and purchase what you needed, even if you were able to afford them. and therein lies the problem - most females just do not have the money to afford sanitary products.
There have been some great initiatives to provide free re-usable pads to the girls at two of the schools, but for the majority of females, cloth rages are their go-to product, month on month, year on year.
UFULU had heard the women and girls saying that they used cloth rags when they had their periods, but we still didn’t know exactly what they meant. Our knowledge was limited and one person’s definition of a cloth rag is going to vary from another’s – especially when you have never had to use them yourself.
Widge sat down with Nandi and asked her to explain exactly what most women use. Rather than just talk about it, Nandi took Widge back to her house and showed her the rags that she used. And this is it…… a large piece of t-shirt type material, which is then folded over itself until it is something like the size of a small house brick.
Not only are rags like these very uncomfortable, each rag will only last a couple of hours before it has to be changed. For women who are working, or away from their homes, the issue arises of where to put their used rag. They are bulky to carry around, are obviously damp and they smell. Then the rag has to be washed thoroughly and dried before it can be reused. This is a big problem in the rainy season. Women are embarrassed to hang their rags outside and many hide them away inside their houses, where they receive no ventilation or direct sunlight. As a consequence they do not dry properly and many women end up with nappy rash and bacterial vaginosis as a result. In fact nearly all of the women we have spoken to, who use rags, say that they have nappy rash, every month. And of course they don’t have the money to buy a product like sudacream, so once again, they suffer in silence.
Many teenage girls in Malawi just don’t go to school when they have their periods if they are using cloth rags. They feel embarrassed and worry about smelling, leaks and stains on their clothing. We don’t believe ANY girl should miss out on their education simply because they are menstruating. The UN states that the easiest way to bring a developing country up in the world rankings is to educate its women. But if the girls are missing ¼ of their education just because they have their periods, you are NEVER going to achieve this.