Bridging the gap between women and menstrual health management

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Traditional methods of handling menstrual fluids are unhygienic and disposable pads are harmful to the environment. This is where Safepad comes in, a reusable cloth sanitary napkin. They not only work in 37 districts across the country, but also with Rohingya women.

July 28, 2022, 09:50

Last modification: July 28, 2022, 5:18 PM

Since 2019, Safepad Bangladesh has been providing reusable sanitary pads to adolescent girls and women in 37 districts across the country. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Since 2019, Safepad Bangladesh has been providing reusable sanitary pads to adolescent girls and women in 37 districts across the country. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

For Tayeba Begum, a woman living in the Balukhali Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, menstrual hygiene – or periods – is something she has to hide from her predominantly male family.

Before coming to Bangladesh, she used old, worn pieces of cloth for her sanitary napkins during her menstrual cycles, which she would eventually wash and dry. But in a cramped refugee camp, doing the same thing in broad daylight is extremely embarrassing. She therefore uses disposable sanitary napkins provided by the NGOs working in the camp.

But the problem with disposable sanitary napkins is that they are single-use plastic and can take up to 700 years to break down. This is a significant threat to the environment as these disposable menstrual products create more than 200,000 tons of non-biodegradable waste worldwide each year, according to Safepad.

Let’s do the math – if a woman uses a minimum of five pads in each monthly menstrual cycle, she will use nearly 2,400 pads in 40 years.

That’s where Safepad™ comes in, a reusable sanitary napkin made from antimicrobial fabric. Since 2019, Safepad Bangladesh has been providing reusable sanitary pads to adolescent girls and women in 37 districts across the country. And not just sanitary napkins, the team worked to educate adolescent girls and their guardians about menstrual hygiene management (MHM).

And now, Safepad™ has reached out to Rohingya women, not only with their reusable pads, but also with a field of employment, where women like Tayeba can learn how to make pads and sell them in their community.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

In their official factory in Chattogram, Safepad employs women to make these pads. And at their skills development center at Balukhali Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar, they provided sewing machines to train Rohingya women to make the towels. Currently, 54 women divided into two batches are learning to make sanitary napkins there.

Stigma and lack of awareness

According to the 2018 National Hygiene Survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, around 29% of menstruating women in the country use sanitary napkins, up from 14% in 2014.

Tahmid Kamal Chowdhury. Illustration: TBS

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Tahmid Kamal Chowdhury.  Illustration: TBS

Tahmid Kamal Chowdhury. Illustration: TBS

Tahmid Kamal Chowdhury, CEO of Safepad Bangladesh, was a student in 2011 when he founded Youth’s Voice, the youth wing of Youth Worldwide Foundation (YWF), a non-profit organization that spreads education in rural areas of the Bangladesh.

Through this experience, Tahmid and his team realized that Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is very much ignored in Bangladeshi society, especially in rural areas. This inspired him to include this issue on YWF’s agenda. And in 2015, YWF started distributing disposable sanitary napkins and also launched MHM campaigns in schools in Bangladesh.

“Tutors, even teachers in some schools, didn’t want us to talk about menstruation and women’s reproductive organs. We have a slide in our presentation showing women’s reproductive organs and explaining how menstruation works. And a teacher in a school in Chattagram insisted that we take down this slide otherwise they won’t let us run the campaign,” said Akil Mutaseem, the company’s COO.

But the team also realized that disposable towels created an immeasurable amount of waste, which was a crisis in itself. That year, when Tahmid attended an MHM conference in Denmark organized by Real Relief, he was inspired by their technology.

Real Relief provides a variety of relief items worldwide. This organization uses antimicrobial fabric to make sanitary napkins and is currently working in 19 countries around the world, including India, Bangladesh, Congo and some other African and European countries.

So Tahmid went back to Bangladesh with the technology and launched Safepad Bangladesh in 2019. And in 2019 production started, and instead of disposable pads, they included the bright fuchsia colored pads in their regular MHM campaigns.

Having previously worked in the ready-to-wear industry, it was easier for Tahmid to organize the logistics. “But I still struggle with the social stigma around menstrual health management,” Tahmid said.

There was a time when his friends shunned him because he worked with “periods, menstrual hygiene or sanitary napkins” – all the social taboos we grow up with. His teammates also had similar experiences. Akil Mutaseem said, “My uncles and aunts think it’s embarrassing to work on menstrual hygiene, especially for a man.”

But they brushed aside those opinions and persevered.

A new era: Safepad™ and antimicrobial technology

In 2021, Safepad Bangladesh participated in the Springboard Program 4.0 Youth Co:Lab, a joint project of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, and won.

“It gave us an incredible opportunity to grow and reach the most vulnerable refugee community living in Bangladesh,” Tahmid said.

So what makes this tampon safe and reusable? “The fabric we used here incorporates permanently bonded antimicrobial technology. This means that the structure of the fabric is designed to resist the spread of bacteria. This is what makes the pad safe to use, wash, dry and then reuse,” says Tahmid.

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

“The pad has three layers – a top layer of fuchsia-colored microfiber fabric, the core has three layers of white microfiber fabric, and the bottom is a polyurethane laminate leak-proof safety layer,” he said. added.

The outer layer, the part in contact with the genitals, is made of microfiber fabric. This fabric is soft, which makes it comfortable to wear and easily washable, which means that blood stains do not settle on it. The central part is in white microfiber fabric. This diaper has no water-soluble dye or added fragrance.

At the bottom, a layer of polyurethane laminate was used to prevent blood from leaking. This was tricky as we know laminate can melt if the temperature is too high. But then, because the pad is reusable, the user will want to use lukewarm water to wash the pad off.

“Antimicrobial technology has helped us here. Because this technology prevents bacteria and fungi from growing, soft, warm water is enough to wash away the blood,” Akil explained.

Safepad offers two sizes designed for heavy flow and normal flow days. Stamps are packaged in a glossy fuchsia recycled paper packet. “The economy pack has two pads (1 heavy stream and 1 normal stream) which cost 190 Tk, and the regular pack has four pads (1 heavy stream and 3 normal stream), which costs 360 Tk,” we were informed. Akil.

The price may seem relatively higher than other brands available in the market at Tk 170-180 for a pack of 10 disposable pads.

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