Franziska Leischker is the director at Xsabo Foundation in Uganda. She spoke to Isaac Khisa about the opportunities of their new product dubbed Fancy Pad.
Briefly tell us about the Fancy Pad project. Why did you decide to come up with such a project?
The “Fancy Pad” project is an innovative sustainable Ugandan answer to ensuring good personal Menstrual Hygiene Management with continuous availability of sanitary pads to all Ugandan girls and women. It is the product of my workshops with Bukoto Art Group at which I taught the artists in Kirimya Village near Masaka how to make paper out of banana fibres, papyrus and such other fibres. I had met the team for the first time in June 2016 and bought arts and crafts from them. I returned to the Bukoto Art Group on behalf of the Xsabo Group in January 2017 which had decided to provide financial support to art groups, youths and women in selected areas. Soon I learnt that many girls in Uganda miss school during their menstrual period due to the lack of sanitary pads. I thought I could do something about it. Alas! The idea of self-made sanitary pads out of local Ugandan banana fibres, maize, papyrus and other vegetable fibres was born!
Why should one consider buying your pads compared with the manufactured pads?
The “Fancy Pad” is an easy to make Do-it-Yourself sustainable 100% biodegradable sanitary pad from local raw materials (banana fibres and other Ugandan vegetable fibres). Its production and disposal therefore produce zero waste. It is clean and hygienic (one-time use). The “Fancy Pads” are low cost as they are cheaper than the commercial pads in supermarkets.
In concrete terms, a set of 8 “Fancy Pads” would go for Shs 2,000 compared to a set of 8 commercial sanitary pads that currently cost at least Shs 4,000.
What is the performance of the “Fancy Pad” on the Ugandan market?
The “Fancy Pad” project is still in the pilot phase. To-date, over 1,000 samples have been tested by girls and women of all walks of life in Uganda, Germany, USA and Croatia. All these girls and women are extremely happy with the Fancy Pads and many say they are much better than the commercial sanitary pads they have been buying up to now.
What has the “Fancy pad” impacted on the local community?
The immediate impact in the communities is that our initiative is now enabling many girls in those areas to stop missing school during their menstrual period. What I have also been noticing is that while the vast majority are making the Fancy Pads independently for themselves, many have opted to make extra sanitary pads and sell them to those who prefer to buy rather than make them themselves. It is very easy to make the Fancy Pads in any size.
What is your assessment of the level of innovation in Uganda?
The people of Uganda are very friendly, open-minded and eager to learn. I see this especially in the children and the youths. The eagerness to learn is one of the most important prerequisites of innovation! Therefore, with the right support, the future of this country is really bright.
What is the future outlook of this project and the related products?
While noting that over the past two decades, Uganda has seen incredible strides in primary and secondary school enrolment across the country with a significant increase in the enrolment of girls, a policy recommendation of the Government of Uganda entitled National Menstrual Hygiene Management in Ugandan Primary and Secondary Schools: Gender, Health and Development carried out in 2017 documents that the retention rate for boys remains significantly higher. The study states unequivocally that one of the primary determinants for this observed gender difference in school retention rates is poor menstrual hygiene management in schools. As you know, in some areas up to 86% of girls in Uganda miss school because they cannot afford sanitary pads and lag behind in class as a result. The national average is more than 40%.These girls skip 4 to 5 days of school for every 28-day cycle. It is, therefore, very clear that the “Fancy Pads” project is addressing a matter of paramount importance for current and future generations of girls and women in Uganda. That is why our implementation concept envisions roll-out in various parts of Uganda with women being given the skills to make the self-made sanitary pads and in turn equip other women with the same skills and same responsibility.