In the beginning
Through our sponsorship scheme and girls' clubs we decided to look at all the reasons a girl may struggle at school. The reasons were many, but one that stood out was that many girls were taking time off school every month through a lack of access to menstrual pads.
We looked into what the girls were using when menstruating and found that whilst some used anything from rags to leaves most used fabric torn from an old 'chitenge'. (See Traditional Methods). This fabric was often dislodged or leaked so, to save embarrassment and ridicule, girls will stay at home from school. For those rare few who do attend school insecurity makes them reluctant to stand up in class to answer questions and they live in dread of being asked to come to the front of the class. Many of the male teachers we spoke to were unaware of the girls’ predicament.
Research first - Our initial trials
In 2013 we started giving away lots of different designs of pads to local women and girls of various ages and backgrounds. Some were school girls, some were office workers, others were mothers of many, and a few were female scouts spending time in the bush searching for poachers. By taking care to listen to their comments during the trial we designed a pad that was comfortable and safe to use . . . and then we held more trials to check we’d got it right.
We also listened to traditional cultural beliefs and taboos and discovered that all women and girls are united in the need to be discreet when it comes to washing and drying their traditional menstrual cloths and this belief is no different when it comes to menstrual pads.
Without exception women and girls would try to dry their pads indoors and out of sight with many putting them under their bed. But pads dried this way can often take a long time to dry, increasing the chance of bacteria developing, resulting in an unpleasant smell or even an infection.
Making our first pads
Early in 2015 several local women were taught simple sewing techniques and shortly afterwards started producing pads. Designs were reworked and refined and eventually we produced pads for sale. We also worked on the problem of drying pads and came up with a great solution - our exclusive 'secret washing line'.
All our female staff use Ufulu pads meaning that we have constant feedback on how well the pads are performing. So far there’s been no complaints, but with leaps and bounds being made in the technical fabric industry we like to try new ideas as well as look at different designs for different purposes. One thing that is consistent is our quality of fabric and sewing standards.