Reusable period pads and sustainability | ActionAid UK

Reusable period pads and sustainability

Reusable sanitary pads and education

School girls in Malawi often have to wear a thick, unabsorbent cloth called Nyanda which chafes their skin, stains their clothes, and is noticeable due to its bulk.

This makes the young girls vulnerable to bullying and creates shame and stigma around the natural process of menstuation. Due to the discomfort and the teasing, some girls end up skipping several days of school. 

For example, one in 10 girls in Africa miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products, or because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school.5

As part of an ActionAid pilot project in Malawi schools, students now receive reusable sanitary pads and can practise safe menstrual hygiene.

Find out how reusable sanitary pads are transforming the lives of girls like Aida. 

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Menstrual cups and other sustainable options

ActionAid is working closely with women and girls to help them access a range of products that help them manage their periods with dignity while also providing sustainable solutions. 

We have set up a pilot project in Malawi that distributes menstrual cups to women and girls who cannot afford sanitary products. 

Menstrual cups are made of silicone and last 10 years, leaving very little waste. They are also easy to use and safe as they can be sterilised using boiling water.

Our work increases girls’ choice and access to sanitary products, and we put their voices front-and-centre when determining which products are most useful for their communities.

However, we know these solutions don't work for everyone. Through our discussions with the women and girls we work with, we found that menstrual cups are not understood or not considered culturally appropriate in some of the predominantly rural communities we work with.

Menstrual cups need to be inserted into the body and are regarded with suspicion for this reason. It is also possible that this solution could lead to cultural stigma, stress and further complications, for example if a girl or woman has been subject to FGM.

Watch a BBC short film by Gloria Achieng about ActionAid's menstrual cup project in Malawi.

Exploring all options for a sustainable solution 

Even though ActionAid is piloting projects to assess sustainable options that help women make reusable pads or support girls in using menstrual cups, we realise and appreciate that these options are not suitable for all the women and girls we work with.

For example, in conflict zones and during humanitarian crises where there is an immediate need and where there are no safe toilet facilities for women and girls, we understand that reusable sanitary products and menstrual cups are not an effective option

So, while we explore several sustainable options as an alternative to the store-bought sanitary pad, we still need your help to support the thousands of women and girls in places like Jordan, Greece, East Africa and Bangladesh with our sanitary kits.


Page updated 13 August 2020