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The Dish

Sustainable Sanitary Pad allows more girls to stay in school

Innovative reusable pad provides a unique solution to a common problem in developing countries.

In rural Uganda, as in many other developing countries, drop out rates for girls in school are as high as 40%, in great part due to the lack of access to affordable and effective sanitary products.

According to UNICEF, one in ten schoolgirls in Africa miss classes or drop out completely due to their period, prompting girls to substitute pads or tampons for less safe options such as rags, newspaper, or bark.

Determined to tackle this widespread problem, Colombian industrial designer Diana Sierra created a sustainable sanitary pad that addresses the issues of cost by using locally available materials. This innovative product is a hybrid design: a reusable and washable cloth that gives girls the options to customize it and fill it with toilet paper or cloth, according to their water availability and income.

“Young girls in developing nations need all the help they can get in dealing with their natural cycle and its impact on school attendance,” she told Design With Benefits. “This product joins other notable efforts as part of the solution.”

Diana had been working in design and product development as a consultant for 8 years before focusing on sustainable design during her Master’s practicum in Uganda. She found that while access to water is very limited in some areas, there was plenty of affordable toilet paper.

“A hygienic, affordable, usable solution for menstruation is a fundamental woman’s need. A sanitary pad can be a small intervention but can go a long way to improving access to education and local jobs,” says Sierra. “This project not only addresses well-being but also expands women’s opportunities to be available for education or work. This project is a simple but meaningful solution that can inspire people in challenged communities to propel with their own work, their lives to a better future.”

Diana is now running a pilot production of 500 kits to be tested in South Sudan, Uganda, and possibly Nigeria with the hopes of having enough information to bring more people on board to make these pads available to as many girls and women as possible.

“I know it sounds ambitious, but I have hope and really believe in the project,” she told us. “Plus, whatever we do in this area, no matter the size of the contribution, it is still a life that can be positively impacted, and that is worth a try.”

Hoping to create an inclusive business model, Diana is very optimistic about opening her own studio that focuses on sustainable design.

“I hope to use my design skills to put my products into the hands of people who need it the most.”