One Intervention that touches 7 Sustainable Development Goals

For all the initiatives in the development sector, the elephant in the room remains: Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) or more aptly termed, period poverty. Poor Menstrual Hygiene Management represents a crucial human rights issue that impacts social and economic rights, including health, water, sanitation, education, and work. The loss of time, productivity, mental clarity, and confidence that come from period poverty seriously endangers the pace of national economic development. Days are missed at school and work because the flow cannot be managed by banana leaves and scrap pieces of cloth. Fungal infections result from these methods of menstruation management while women lack secure, clean spaces to manage their monthly menstruation with dignity. Further, the obsessive worry about the timing, duration, and heaviness of one’s period is mentally draining.

Investing energy and money in menstrual health will help to achieve 7 SDGs

Just this month, the WHO released a definition for the term Menstrual Health. It states, “menstrual health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.” This is significant; a clear articulation of this fundamental issue is the first step to including the concept into some of the key development frameworks. For example, Menstrual Health is a single intervention that cuts across seven different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 3, 4 ,5 6, 8, 11, and 13. If national policies included budget and metrics for menstrual health, they would be taking significant steps to harness the demographic dividend that is often vocalized as a goal of many African countries.

Intrepid Entrepreneurs launched Next Health Accelerator to catalyze African, female entrepreneurs disrupting the sexual and reproductive health sector. Two hundred and thirty-five applications were received from 26 African countries with a remarkable one-third of these startups proposing solutions for Menstrual Hygiene Management. If the global public health, gender, and development sectors are serious about localization and listening to the populations they seek to serve, then this information should send a resounding message. Menstrual hygiene management is the predominant challenge that local startups are aiming to solve. From our perspective, this is a quintessential case of necessity being the mother of all invention. African entrepreneurs seem ready to tackle menstrual hygiene management and the data shows they have got a good reason to be motivated.

Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) survey is one of the very few nationally representative datasets that collects information on menstrual hygiene management. PMA2020 collected data in selected LMICs in Africa and Asia to “provide information on how menstrual hygiene is managed across age groups and across wealth categories, including the types of materials used to collect menstrual blood, the main environments where MHM is practiced, and the safety, privacy, and cleanliness of these environments, among other metrics.” PMA 2020 found that the majority of women do not have all that they need to manage their menstruation. In Kinshasa, 59% of women report not having all they need to manage their menstruation. In Ethiopia, that number is 72%, and in Kenya, 55% of the women do not have everything they need to manage their menstruation. While access to sanitary pads is not a panacea, it is notable that the non-use/ lack of access to sanitary pads is very high. For example, 41% of women lack access to sanitary pads in Ethiopia, Nigeria (37%), and Uganda (36%).

Next Health Accelerator supports 6 African start-ups that offer reusable and affordable menstrual products

Intrepid Entrepreneurs is catalyzing the following Menstrual Hygiene Management solutions in our Next Health Accelerator, a six-month pan-African, comprehensive program focused on expansion and investor readiness:

Girls’ Pride: Founded in 2017, Girls’ Pride provides menstrual hygiene solutions to women in The Gambia. Girls’ Pride offers a mix of production, distribution, and teaching on menstrual hygiene care. The “for women by women” approach, addresses period poverty, promotes maternal and child health keeps girls in school during their periods, ends gender-based violence and inequalities.

Pad-Up Creations: Pioneer in the menstrual hygiene product industry, Pad-Up Creations produced the first certified reusable sanitary pads in Nigeria and distributes its products in 16 African countries. Its goal is to keep girls in school and empower women.

Valorigo: Valorigo is a Congolese startup developing natural, affordable, Made in Africa, single-use sanitary pads obtained by transforming locally grown bamboo. Valorigo aims to fight against menstrual precariousness experienced by millions of low-income women in the DRC and in Africa.

The Grace Cup: Founded in 2017 in Kenya, The Grace Cup solves menstrual poverty with affordable FDA-approved menstrual cups made from 100% medical-grade silicon. By providing teaching and information to teenagers, women, and men, the startup aims to address the lack of education around menstruation hygiene and reproductive health.

Kosmotive: Founded in 2014 in Rwanda, Kosmotive is a brand ecosystem about reproductive, maternal, and child health. Kosmotive provides women and girls with sexual and reproductive health information, and self-care products via a digital platform.

Massira: Based in Ghana, Massira is a leading female-centered support community specializing in providing sexual, reproductive, and mental health services. Massira aims to reduce the gender disparity in healthcare by providing access to information, products, and services in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On this Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28, 2021, let us commit as a development community to normalize monthly menstruation and reduce the crippling stigma surrounding the issue. MHM deserves its own budget and metrics if we are serious about the advancement of girls and women who are and will continue to be the backbone of development for families and societies. African women entrepreneurs have spoken in the Next Health Accelerator call for applications and they are normalizing and easing menstruation. Can we join them?

Drawing by @studiograndpere