Malawi: Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe changes women’s lives

Equality matters. Unwritten sanctions against people who speak openly about bodily functions, especially female body functions, seem to exist everywhere. Menstruation is one of these topics. Sanctions against menstruating women are many. Young girls still get their first monthly bleeding without knowing what is happening. We are expected to hide the fact that we menstruate and must make as little fuss as possible. Menstrual products (reuseable pads, disposable pad, cups, tampons, ets.) are expensive. In many countries there is no access to menstrual products. Women must use rags that leak and are forbidden, by unwritten rules, to wash and hang their rags where they can be seen. Girls stay home from school because they bleed through their rags or there is no access to a toilet. Both genders enforce this form of discrimination and body-shaming. However, some women (and men) take steps to make life better for menstruating women. Especially poor countries struggle with access to menstrual products. Malawi is a place where a month’s supply of disposable pads may cost up to two days salary.  Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe’s reuseable pads can make a huge difference in the lives of women.

Easing the menstrual woes

Brenda Twea | May 22, 2016

Menstruation is a normal biological process and a key sign of reproductive health. It is the natural monthly occurrence in healthy adolescent girls and pre-menopausal adult women. The onset can occur anytime between the ages of eight and 16, resulting in about 3 000 days of menstruation in an average woman’s lifetime.

In addition to persisting taboos, women and girls’ capacity to manage their periods is affected by a number of other factors, including limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options leaving many to manage their periods in ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic ways.

Very often, women and girls miss school and productive work days and fall behind their male counterparts, because of practical needs such as water and space for washing and cleaning the body, material for absorbing menstrual blood and facilities for proper disposal of used materials.

Example of Ms. Mhango-Kunashe’s reuseable menstrual pads. Credit MW Nation€€

Menstrual hygiene and management can be essential in ensuring that one’s everyday life is not interrupted by menstruation. A College of Medicine research scientist and project coordinator for Global Early Adolescent Study, Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe is producing reusable sanitary pads.

“I sew reusable, washable sanitary pads made out of cloth. They can last for two years. This is a low cost alternative, a once off purchase which a girl could use for 24 times or more,” says Kunashe.

Tinapads, as they are called, are made of three types of fabric; flannel, toweling and water proof material. The pattern has wings which are snapped with press buttons to wrap it properly and comfortably on the underwear. “This will ensure that a girl stays in school all year round. If she is absent then menstruation management problem will not be the reason for her absenteeism,” she says.

Kunashe adds that she came up with this innovation after noting that girls usually stay home from school for days due to lack of proper and dignified sanitary materials. She notes that this affects their class work, and translates into poor performances and rises in school dropout rates.

“Our objectives are to reduce absenteeism rates caused by lack of sanitary products, keep girls in school, motivate them to stay in school, break the silence around menstruation and expose girls to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) because our distribution will go along with three sessions on body development, body feelings and changes and how to cope with that,” she says.

Kunashe says it will be a pack of nine sanitary pads, down from the initial 10. The number was reduced in order to bring down the cost.

“In the pack of nine, three will be used on day one, three on day two; and two on day three and the remaining one on day four. The target is for the pads to be used once a month so that when they are washed, they should not be used again until the following month. As such, they will last longer. …”

The rest of the article may be read at The Nation

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2 thoughts on “Malawi: Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe changes women’s lives

  1. It’s strange how I have so thoroughly internalized this when I was younger. And now it seems kind of ridiculous — even as I manage to still hang onto some of the shame of menstruation. What we learn isn’t always so easy to discard. I’m still working on it.

    1. I cannot understand why so many cultures shame women for something so essential and natural to our bodies. I wonder if there is any culture that celebrates women having menstruation (other than a coming-of-age ceremony)?

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