Problem Addressed

Inadequate support for menstrual hygiene in Uganda impacts girls’ human rights to sanitation, education, health and employment and prevents them from realizing their full potential.

Sanitation: Lack of an affordable sanitary product forces girls to use unhygienic and inadequate alternatives like dirty rags and corn husks. Irise data shows 68% of girls are using rags some or all of the time. Girls are afraid of staining their skirts and being teased by other pupils who perceive menstruation as dirty and taboo.

Education: 50% of girls report missing school due to their period because of a combination of inadequate sanitary materials, misinformation, and taboo. The shame and stigma associated with menstruation also affects girls education indirectly through causing low self-esteem and confidence levels.

Health: Although the data is scarce, poor menstrual hygiene may also directly cause infection and research is needed urgently to understand the risks associated with different hygiene practices. Systemic misinformation about women’s health ranges from doctors teaching that sex is the only cure for period pain, to the belief that menstruating women are dirty and can contaminate others. Their data show that 50% of girls believe period pain is a sign of illness. Menarche is an important window in a girl’s life and can be conceptualized as a social determinant of reproductive health with the attitudes and information internalized by girls about their own bodies during this formative period affecting their longterm health seeking behaviors, including access to family planning and seeking medical care during pregnancy.

Employment: The issue persists into adulthood, with research suggesting female teachers also miss work because of inadequate support during menstruation.

Innovative Approach

Irise International presents an holistic solution to the issue of menstrual hygiene management. Through their projects, Irise transforms the discourse around sanitation into a drive to change education, health outcomes, and women’s rights in Uganda. By working with schools, they are able to address these issues holistically and teach girls from a young age to be proud of being girls.

Introduction to Irise (Short)

Program Solution

Irise International aims to deliver high quality, fact-based menstrual health education and a sanitary product that is affordable and accessible to the end user. Irise Ltd Uganda produces washable, reusable sanitary pads. An Easy Pad Kit costs the same as a month’s supply of disposable pads but lasts for 9-12 months. Easy Pad Kits also include menstrual health information so girls know the facts about their own bodies. An Easy Pad Workshop produces enough pads to supply 10,000 girls a year and creates employment for 20 women who would otherwise struggle to find work. Irise works to ensure that all women and girls can access Easy Pad through enabling local women to become entrepreneurs and sell Easy Pads in their communities on commission and through payment schemes in which schoolgirls’ families can pay in small monthly installments.

Irise’s educational component is focused on developing a “train the trainer” course and other resources to supplement menstrual health education, including resources for girls’ groups, mother and daughter workshops, men and boys, and an online resource compatible with a cheap android tablet that trainers, teachers and girls themselves can use in training or to refresh their own knowledge. Through access to information and mentorship, girls gain confidence and support their friends. In their model, 1 trainer trains 10 young women who go on to reach 6000 girls a year.

Irise is currently piloting the program in Jinja to develop both the community-based sales strategy and payment schemes and the educational resources. The two strands of the program work together synergistically. Education creates awareness of girls’ sanitation needs, breaks the menstrual taboo, and creates demand for an affordable product which the social enterprise provides.