James Bonney is the grants manager at Huru International, where he assists with program development and institutional partnerships.

Girls and women in resource-poor settings often lack access to sanitary pads, and the consequences they suffer as a result have only recently begun to receive serious attention. We’re often asked, “Why sanitary pads? Is it really that significant a problem?” The answer is yes: for countless girls and women, sanitary pads are an unaffordable luxury. Among the thousands of girls with whom Huru International has worked, most explained that they were forced to resort to unsanitary and sometimes unsafe measures to meet their needs. These include retrieving and recycling used disposable pads and improvising makeshift pads from old clothes, rags, newspapers, bits of mattress, and other readily available materials.

The lack of affordable sanitary pads has been widely cited as one of the key obstacles to regular school attendance among adolescent girls. Although this correlation has yet to be extensively studied, Huru’s program evaluations have thus far confirmed it, and we’re arranging for increased access to school attendance records in targeted districts for additional verification.

 Looking beyond the impact that sanitary pad provision has on school attendance, however, it is no less important that interventions furnish girls with a tool that can reclaim a measure of the dignity that poverty too often conspires to deny.

Huru International produces and distributes kits of reusable sanitary pads (RSPs) and associated materials to underserved girls throughout Kenya. Kits come bundled in backpacks, and include eight RSPs; three pairs of underwear; detergent-grade soap; a resealable waterproof bag; instructions on proper pad use and maintenance; and educational materials focused on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention. The pads are manufactured at a production workshop in Mukuru—one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements—which is staffed by members of the community, including many women living with HIV/AIDS.

 Huru Kits are distributed at health information sharing sessions; so far, we have delivered nearly 15,000 kits to at-risk girls in six of Kenya’s eight administrative provinces. Near-term plans for program expansion include developing a referral network for HIV voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and other critical services, cultivating peer education campaigns with the collaboration of program beneficiaries, and working with distribution partners to achieve expanded coverage in rural areas.

Many of our beneficiaries have reported that simply having a reliable supply of sanitary pads has had a positive impact on their self-esteem and school performance. Roselyne, a 13-year-old girl from Mathare, was kind enough to write a few words for us about the anxieties that frequently led her to skip school during her periods:

“Using a handkerchief was really difficult because it couldn’t hold blood for a long time; thus, leaking was easy. This meant I couldn’t concentrate in class because I was worried of soiling my uniform and being gossiped about in the class. At times I had to improvise ways of making my own pad by taking tissues and putting them between the handkerchief so as to prevent leakage, but this proved futile because at times the bulk was very uncomfortable and shifted from one position to another. This limited my movement in school because I was afraid that it would fall down and be a laughing subject to the rest of the students. Now I don’t have to worry about soiling my clothes because there is no leakage and the pads are very comfortable, and I can concentrate in class fully.”