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May 9, 2010

Sanitary Pads in Rwanda = Better Education and Better Pay

contributor: Rob Goodier

Elizabeth Scharpf on sanitary pad production in a Dowser video:

In the developing world, having ordinary sanitary pads can mean the difference between poverty and a wage that women can live on.  Without them, young women skip school and working women stay home.

The problem is that without local manufacture, imported sanitary pads are too expensive. Women who cannot afford them may try using cloth rags, and in cases of extreme poverty, even bark or mud to absorb menstrual blood.

“Up to 20 percent of the work force was missing about 50 days per year because the rags that are used aren’t effective. Rather than risk being embarrassed by a leak or a stain, they would stay home,” said Elizabeth Scharpf, who has worked in Mozambique and Rwanda.

Local manufacture

Scharpf is the founder of Sustainable Health Enterprises, an organization that creates market-based solutions to problems in the developing world. She helps train Rwandans in business skills and community health workers in feminine hygiene.

Scharpf and her organization are attacking the problem from two directions. First, they helps Rwandans buy imported pads cheaper. They buy the pads wholesale and sell them to local retailers at a cheaper rate.

Second, they are building a pad factory so Rwandans can produce their own pads.

Local materials

Scharpf teamed with Med Byrd, a professor in the department of forest biomaterials at North Carolina State University, to design a prototype pad made with local materials. Byrd settled on banana leaf fiber. When processed correctly, it is soft and absorbent.

Job offer: pad factory engineer

Now, the factory needs an upgrade, and Scharpf plans to hire a mechanical engineer.

The machine that is in place assembles four pads per minute. Scharpf would like to double or even triple that speed. But there are some challenges. Electricity is scarce and so is water, so the upgrade would have to be tailored to the local conditions.

The work would be on location. Those who are qualified can contact Scharpf at

tags : SDG3, SDG4, women's health

Rob Goodier

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