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Imagine relying on old rags, newspapers, and leaves to manage your period.

reusable sanitary pads
Sophia and Mia in Melbourne

By LUCY ORMONDE

Today we want to tell you the story of two women.

These two women live vastly different lives (one lives in Uganda and the other lives in Melbourne) but they also have one very common goal; to provide the women of the world with adequate sanitary hygiene products and reduce the stigma that comes with talking about periods.

The first woman we want to introduce you to is Sophia Klumpp.

Five years ago, Sophia and her partner Paul moved to a small village in Uganda to work on a community development project. The place they were living was poor; there was no running water, no electricity and few means of transportation. It wasn’t long before Sophia started to think about pads and tampons – and what the women of the community were using to manage their monthly periods.

Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by Moxie. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100% authentic and written in their own words.

“About five months into our time in Uganda we realised that many school-age girls could not afford sanitary pads,” Sophia told Mamamia in a recent interview. “The monthly cost was just too expensive for their families, especially if there were several girls living in the household. For those girls who could afford to buy pads, we realised that access in these remote villages was often the barrier.  The little dukkas (village shops) often had irregular, if any, pads in stock,” Sophia says.

Sophia says it was then that she had a light-bulb moment. “It begged questions like, ‘if they couldn’t afford pads, what were women and girls using? And how was this impacting their lives?'” she says.

Sophia and Paul started asking questions around the village and soon found out the (quite astonishing) answer.

“We came to realise that many women and girls rely on makeshift substitutes such as old rags, newspapers, and even leaves to manage their menstrual flow. It should come as no surprise that these materials lead to general discomfort, embarrassing leaks, and even infections,” Sophia says.

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They also learned that many young girls were missing up to three or four days of school every month – which equates to about 20 per cent of the school year – because they couldn’t afford pads and were worried that their home-made ones might leak or fall out during the day.

reusable sanitary pads
The girls in Uganda with their AFRIpads

“Confronted with this harsh reality, Paul and I decided to take matters into our own hands,” Sophia says.  “We had recently learned about cloth washable sanitary pads being used by women in developed countries as an eco-friendly alternative.  This sparked the idea that if Ugandan girls embraced the product, it could be a low-cost option, filling the gap between costly disposable pads and the unhygienic alternatives often used.  More than that, if there was demand and we could figure out how to make them in Uganda, we could actually create a local industry creating loads of jobs along with it,” she says.

It was with that, that Sophia and Paul’s company AFRIpads was born. Their first pad was made by cutting up bedsheets and fashioning them into what resembled a pad. Five years later, AFRIpads are made in a central factory in Uganda and the company employs 65 local people (95 per cent of whom are women).

The pads are sold to women through various healthcare service providers across Uganda and also to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who provide them to groups like  UNICEF, PLAN International and the International Rescue Committee. They’re also distributed to displaced people in large camps and settlements through relief organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children.

“Each of our AFRIpads Deluxe Menstrual Kits includes two holding units, five washable pads, one carrying pouch and product use/care instructions.  All items in our kits are washable and there are no added chemicals, gels or fragrances.  Like a pair of underwear or washable nappies, our pads can easily be washed clean and reused,” Sophia says.

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Just looking at the testimonials on the AFRIpads website, it’s clear that Sophia and Paul are making a difference to the lives and futures of young girls in Africa. With the help of the reusable sanitary pads, girls are now able to attend school every day of the month. Meaning that they won’t fall behind or, even more worryingly, drop out altogether.

And that leads us to the story of the second woman we want to tell you about today.

Mia Klitsas is the owner and founder of Moxie (you probably know Moxie as the makers of tampons that come in tins). Mia was 22 and still at university when she first came up with the idea of doing away with the cardboard boxes that tampons traditionally come in, and instead packaging them in more fashionable tins.

“I remember at Uni there was a Priceline store underneath our building and in between tutorials all the girls would go down to Priceline and we would do our shop,” Mia tells me. “We’d buy fake tan and hair pins, mascara, the works. But the one thing that I noticed that we didn’t really talk about or buy together was pads or tampons.”

“I thought that was really weird because that’s one thing that women have to buy. And yet it’s the one thing that we were embarrassed to talk about,” Mia says. “We love to buy lipstick, we love to buy things that are nicely packaged, we love having these things in our bags. And yet the most feminine product feels anything but feminine. And that’s crazy,” she says.

Mia started playing around with the idea of producing a tampon in a package that wouldn’t break open in a woman’s bag and leave her with loose tampons scattered throughout. Six months later – in 2005 – Moxie and was born with the aim to make women feel more comfortable when it comes to talking about periods and sanitary hygiene.

So the question you’re probably asking now is: what do Mia’s tampons in a tin have to do with Sophia’s reusable sanitary pads?

reusable sanitary pads
Sophia and Mia with the Mamamia team
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We’re glad you asked.

Around three months ago, Mia read an article that was sent to her by a friend. “The article was basically talking about the really high rates of absenteeism amongst Ugandan school girls and how that was because they didn’t have adequate means to manage their periods,” Mia says.  “As a result they were missing out on school … And that hit me like a tonne of bricks,” she says.

“The article also talked about AFRIpads and the work that they do in Uganda at the moment – manufacturing washable sanitary pads pads and distributing them to school girls who need them and who would otherwise not have access to them,” Mia says.

“I literally called Sophia – her name was mentioned in the article so I just looked her up and contacted her – and I said: ‘This is going to sound really strange but I’m from Australia, I read about what you do, this is what I do and we really want to help.'”

A few weeks later, Sophia and Mia met up in Amsterdam (coincidentally, they were both going to be there at the same time) to talk about how they could work together and from that moment, they haven’t looked back.

Sophia and Mia have now joined forces so they can further help young girls in Africa to manage their periods with dignity and get the education they deserve.

They created ‘One for the Girls’, an initiative aimed at getting Australian women to help the women of Africa just by using their purchasing power. For every packet of Moxie Slenders Liners, Slenders Pads and Sleepovers Pads that is sold in Australia, Moxie have committed to providing the equivalent amount of reusable sanitary pads to school girls in Uganda.

“The more Moxie product we sell, the more girls in Uganda that we can help,” Mia says.

And that’s girls like this one who’s mentioned by Sophia during her interview.

“We interviewed a girl back in 2011 who told us the story of how one day at school she had an embarrassing leak because she was using an old cloth to absorb her menstrual flow,” Sophia says. “The cloth fell out and blood stained her skirt in the middle of class. She hadn’t realized this and stood up, and when she did all the boys in the class started laughing at her”.

“She was so embarrassed and traumatised that not only did she run home from school, she simply never went back.  For one year she just stayed at home, refusing to go to school, until one day she discovered AFRIpads Menstrual Kits were available in her village.  She felt so confident using the product that she could go back to school with the protection and dignity she deserved.”

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So… can you help too?

Please spread the message and tell your friends about One for the Girls so that girls in Uganda won’t have to skip school anymore because they’re worried about their periods.

 There’s one more thing you can do: Please share this post, and help raise awareness for women in Uganda. 

reusable sanitary padsMillions of girls living in developing countries, like Uganda, miss up to 20 per cent of the school year because they don’t have access to adequate feminine hygiene products to help them manage their periods whilst they are at school.

Moxie wants to put a stop to these high rates of absenteeism to give girls a better chance to complete their schooling – so they’ve teamed up with AFRIpads (afripads.com), a social organisation based in Uganda, which facilitates the manufacture and distribution of low cost, cloth, reusable sanitary pads. The pads are made locally by Ugandan women, allowing them to generate an income to also help send their own kids to school.

Providing reusable sanitary pads is more sustainable in the Ugandan environment where there are no adequate, sanitised means of disposal; hence each girl is provided with a “Deluxe Menstrual Kit” of washable sanitary pads that will last her for one year.

For every packet of Moxie Slenders Liners, Slenders Pads and Sleepovers Pads sold in Australia during this project, Moxie will send the equivalent amount of locally made, re-usable pads to Ugandan school girls. 

By buying Moxie pads, you are personally contributing to young Ugandan women getting the education they deserve.

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