Thanks to Hyasintha Bartholomew Ntuyeko, Founder and CEO of Kasole Secrets, for this guest post.
Kasole Secrets, a Tanzanian social enterprise and part of the inaugural cohort of the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, is improving menstrual health management in public secondary schools in Tanzania’s Kibaha District. Kasole Secrets, which makes the disposable Glory Sanitary Napkin, an ultra-absorbent and naturally anti-bacterial pad embossed with hypoallergenic bamboo fiber, also provides education to youth about menstruation, helping to break long-standing taboos around menstrual health and hygiene (MHH).
In a recent partnership, Kasole Secrets collaborated with Kibaha Municipal and the Tanzania National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in implementing an Integrated Menstrual Health project in six public schools that addressed limited access to affordable and quality sanitary pads, inadequate and poor school WASH facilities, and inadequate information on puberty and menstrual health among school girls.
This project received financial support from Grand Challenges Canada under a Global Stars in Sexual and Reproductive Health grant and some of the project activities were funded by the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator. This project was implemented from Jan 2020 to April 2021. Taking an entrepreneurial approach to inadequate WASH and MHH access, the project focused on:
Distributing bamboo disposable Glory Pads for free for 3 months, later selling the pads via school matrons and shops at discounted price
- Forming school health clubs, including boys too, using these clubs as a platform to educate students about puberty and menstruation through a tailored curriculum
- Training school committees on the importance of friendly WASH facilities to help girls manage their menstruation with dignity
- Empowering school management teams and District Education Officers with training on change management and entrepreneurship
- Providing coaching and starting capital for the schools to run pads business as an income-generating activity
This project managed to increase the access to quality and affordable sanitary pads by 12% (from 22% to 34%); reduced the use of old clothes as menstrual materials by 9% (from 62 to 53%); and increased knowledge on puberty and menstruation among adolescents in schools by 52% (from 32.6 to 84.6%) and 57% (from 27.0 to 83.8%) respectively. Furthermore, school WASH facilities were improved and the end results showed reduction in school absenteeism for menstruating girls by 8% (from 22.3 to 14.7%). Impressive results for a shorter-term project!
Of course, there were a number of challenges. Due to COVID-19 and closure of all the schools in March 2020, health clubs couldn’t finish their curriculum in December 2020 as planned, and were delayed until March 2021. This delay really overburdened our trainers as new enrolled students were swamping the clubs and had missed 75% of the training done in 2020.
Also, due to the COVID-19 school break, the students time table was super tight as teachers hurried to finish the curriculum on time, something which required a reduction of club time from 1 hour to 45 minutes or even 30 minutes at some schools, a decision that cut into our curriculum time.
Apart from these challenges, we learned the following:
Provision of menstrual materials alone is not enough to improve school attendance for menstruating girls. Other psychosocial, social-economic, and sanitation issues need to be prioritized.
- Adequate knowledge on the menstrual cycle is vital for reducing fears of staining uniforms and demand for pads in school.
- School clubs are the most preferred source of information and an opportunity for information sharing outside of school syllabus.
- Capacity building to schools’ committees and teachers is important for ownership and improving school WASH facilities at very low cost.
- Parent engagement is vital, especially on menstrual products. They need to clearly understand the menstrual products their daughters are given in schools for them to give the go-ahead.
- Training on change management and entrepreneurship, alongside continuous coaching is very important, especially when you are trying to sell pads in schools.
We are really encouraged by our outcomes in these six schools and feel confident that we can scale this approach across the country. All we need now is more financial support to execute! We’ll continue to follow up with our participants over the next year to see if, and for how long, our impact sticks, and we look forward to experimenting with projects like this in the near future!