Long Read

Best practice: Making reusable sanitary pads accessible and affordable

Commercial sanitary pads are accessible in most of Indonesia, but not in small islands and villages where they are prohibitively expensive. This means that during menstruation many girls and women use old cloths that often leak and are uncomfortable and unsanitary. However, a woman in the island of Flores wants this to change and has started producing reusable, environmentally friendly sanitary pads.

Ibu Veronica, 54, is a tailor with a mission: to make reusable sanitary pads and help girls and women in her village enjoy safe menstrual hygiene management (MHM).

Limited access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities and sanitary napkins make it difficult for girls and women to manage their menstruation hygienically. As a result, many (young) women face considerable physical and social challenges during menstruation, such as missing school, and missing out on important economic activities. Having affordable and comfortable sanitary pads during their period is part of the solution to provide a safe MHM environment for girls and women, concluded Annabel Buzink in her field research for Simavi.

Last year, the Global Health student from the VU University Amsterdam spent three months on the island of Flores to conduct research for us on MHM amongst women in rural areas of Indonesia. Together with Simavi’s local partner AYO Indonesia, she identified a number of obstacles to MHM in this region of Indonesia, including a lack of MHM and SRHR information to women and girls, lack of resources WASH facilities and pads, and an environment (people, parents, government and CSOs) that’s sensitive to the issue. Annabel recommended various opportunities to improve the situation in Flores: “I believe sanitary pads that are easy to use, inexpensive, recyclable and made from environmentally friendly materials could be a big help for women in rural villages”.

After this field research, Simavi supported AYO Indonesia to develop a project that addresses the MHM problems in Flores. They start implementing this project at the beginning of 2016 and the example of Ibu Veronica already reflects a fast result. Based on Simavi’s input, Ibu Veronica is developing her own pads with the support of our local partner AYO Indonesia. Her design is made of fleece with cotton pads inside. The outside layer is from a nylon-type fabric. The pads can be washed with cold water, baking soda and some vinegar, and can last up to two years. Some women have started using the pads and report them to be comfortable and leak-free. The pads are currently sold for 30,000 rupiah (€2) per piece, but the price will go down once more pads are being produced. The marketing for the pads is done by Ibu Len, one of the AYO field staff.

Income generating sanitary pads

Ibu Veronica’s husband supports his wife’s new venture, and sees it as a very creative way to augment their income. In Bedang village where they live, the women normally have little say in household affairs. Dowries are paid to the bride’s family before marriage and once married, the husband decides on many aspects of his wife’s life, including the number of children, household budget and healthcare. This makes her husband’s support of this venture very significant for Ibu Veronica.

Therefore, this project not only supports the (economic) empowerment of women, but also opens up discussions on traditional and unequal gender roles – an important step towards more equality between women and men in Indonesia.

Ibu Veronica’s design still needs more revision and reworking to increase ease and comfort. The plan for the future is to improve them further, expand the production, lower the price and encourage girls in the village who have dropped out of school to sell the pads and earn extra income.

Read more on Simavi’s MHM programmes.


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