Bleeding in Kenya: Turning Research into Local Empowerment through a cloth pads project.
What was I doing there?
First off, hello! I’m Morgan, a new volunteer with Lilypads and this story shares my first big effort to improve menstruation experiences for others. I was working on my Master’s of Public Health, which required in-field experience. Logically, being from the Midwest (of USA), I thought Kenya would be the best place for this. Realistically, I have always wanted to travel to Kenya and the potential that I could do meaningful research for a local community there seemed like a perfect opportunity. I was connected with Dandelion Africa, who were open to hosting me for this experience.
Where exactly? (Dandelion Africa)
Dandelion Africa is a non-profit grass-roots organization that provides health and education to many villages in Nakuru County (Rift Valley / Western Kenya). They focus on women’s health and empowerment, making my desire to study menstruation fitting. While they already have a menstrual product distribution scheme, I worked with them to develop questions for the community to discover if there was more we could do to better support menstruators.
How did it work out?
I set out with a research plan focused around girls’ experiences with menstruation in school. When I arrived, all the girls were on school holidays…for almost the entirety of my six weeks there. Bad planning, right? Maybe, but it shifted the focus from girls’ experiences to women’s experiences.
This shift allowed me to explore the experiences that are often left out of research and to ask different questions. The interview questions were developed in conjunction with Dandelion Africa to ensure that I was culturally sensitive and beneficial to everyone involved.
What did I learn?
This might be obvious, but I learned that women struggled with as many menstrual issues as the young girls I had read about in my pre-trip research. I think it’s assumed that by the time girls are out of school, they magically are able to menstruate with dignity.
This is not true.
Gaps in knowledge. Like knowing what is “normal” for them as an individual and when they should seek out professional health care still exist.
Gaps in access to hygienic products. These include soap, water, menstrual fluid collection or absorption material, and privacy.
Gaps in communication with others – friends, parents, kids, and romantic partners still exist.
Sorry, what still exists?!
Shame, isolation, misinformation, and lack of access to hygiene necessities.
Incredible resilience and strength to continue working towards their dreams, goals, and caring for others in their life.
What happened after the formal research?
I returned to the States knowing I would be back in Kenya someday soon, I had been welcomed into the community through Dandelion Africa. I continued to talk with them to see what I could do to improve menstruation experiences.
One of the topics that came up during the research interviews was having reusable menstrual products. Many of the women said they were interested in reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups. I can’t make menstrual cups, but I can make reusable cloth pads.
So, I worked on designing and making pads specifically for Dandelion Africa to distribute. By the time I returned to Kenya, I had made nearly 90 cloth pads.
We distributed the cloth pads and asked the women to give us feedback. The feedback was helpful to make sure that we would make a product that suited these women in their lives.
Once we finalised a design, I taught one local seamstress, hired by Dandelion Africa. Together, we searched the local markets for local materials. Because flying to Kenya is expensive and although I am always keen, I simply don’t think it’s reasonable for them to not be able to make this an entirely self-sustaining program. The next time I was in Kenya, I taught the student seamstresses at the local polytechnic school. Some curious male students offered to help with some of the hand stitching fixes!
And now, Stitch Sisters Dandelion Africa
The reusable menstrual cloth pad program is called “Stitch Sisters Dandelion Africa” and is still successful today. In fact, they decided to start making reusable cloth diapers/nappies for babies because the materials are essentially the same as a cloth pad. They have taken the knowledge I shared with them and have transformed it to better help their community.
I have continued to research menstruation and solidified the understanding that most menstruators face the same struggles. Regardless of location, age, and culture, menstruators still often feel shame, isolation, and struggle to care for themselves at certain times at the month. This is why I keep researching it, trying to figure out a way to make it better, for everyone.
It’s been over a year now since I last visited (due to COVID-19), but I will go back. As I continue to research menstruation, I have new information to share with them. And I cannot wait to see what other amazing work they’ve accomplished during our time apart.
In 1989, Natracare company started making non-chlorine-bleached pads and tampons, focused on health of women and the effect on the environment in production and at disposal (Bobel & Lorber, 2010, p. 59)
Natracare was one of the first of many companies to offer safe period products.
To this day, people are fighting to encourage period product companies to list the ingredients on product boxes or online,
Plastic Period Product Impact on Environment
Individual Use Estimates:
If a menstruator uses five tampons a day for five days over thirty-eight menstruating years, they will consume and dispose of approximately 11,400 items!(Bobel & Lorber, 2010, p. 63)
Therefore, it is estimated that an average menstruator throws away 250 to 300 pounds of tampons, pads, and applicators in a single lifetime! (Bobel & Lorber, 2010, p. 63).
SEAC (Student Environmental Action Coalition) claims that annually more than twelve billion pads and seven million tampons are used once and thrown away, clogging our overburdened landfill sites (Bobel & Lorber, 2010, p. 63)
Finally, the impact on Environment. So where does all that waste go?
Clogging landfills and Coastal areas
Ocean Conservancy volunteers collected 27,938 used tampons and applicators on our world’s beaches on a single day (International Coastal Cleanup, 2013).
Harmful to local plants and animals during production and disposal
Pesticides used on non-organic cottons harm plants and animals
Studies have found that disposable pads may contain chemicals that may delay decomposition, meaning it could have negative impacts on local plants and animals (Lynch, 1996, p. 11)
Single-Use Period Products that are safe for you and the environment:
Like single-use period products? Go for 100% organic cotton ones!
So why do we have links to other companies? Because we know that each period is different, people prefer different products, and accessibility may influence what you can use. Therefore, we want you to choose the products that are best for your body and life. We hope you can feel comfortable in your choices.
Check out our other blogs related to this topic or interested in trying our pads? Click here.
Why include sources? So that you know where I get this information from and have a starting point to do your own research!
Bobel, C., & Lorber, J. (2010). New Blood : Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Lynch, P. (1996). Menstrual waste in the backcountry (Science for Conservation No. 35). Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation.
Weiss-Wolf, J. (2017). Period Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity. New York: Arcade Publishing.
From the end of the daily commute to working in pyjamas, lockdown caused by Covid-19 has changed our world. Many of us are now spending more time than ever at home. We are working, exercising and digitally socialising from our living rooms or bedrooms. As well as spending more time at home, lockdown has changed our lifestyle. We are socialising in different ways, shopping in different ways and looking after ourselves in different ways.
Lockdown and covid-19 has been extremely challenging. It has led to loss of life for millions across the globe and negative impacts on mental health. But could the change in lifestyle and spending more time at home perhaps allowed us to embrace sustainability or try a sustainable lifestyle for the first time?
Time, reflection and experimentation
As well as changing our habits, lockdown has allowed us to reflect and think more. The extra time we have and the lack of social engagements has perhaps allowed us the chance to Question or decisions and make more informed choices and test different behaviours from our own homes.
Lockdown has given many of us more time to try new things. Whether it be trying Tik Tok coffees, experimenting with new foods are trying a new home workout, Lockdown has given us the time to experiment.
More awareness about sustainability…
Lockdown also coincided with some of the biggest signals of the climate crisis and research has made us more aware of the direct impact our behaviours have on the planet. The 2020 wildfires created some of the most extraordinary and terrifying photographs ever. They were a stark reminder that no area of the world is immune from the consequences of climate change. Research surrounding the climate crisis has also become more mainstream with documentaries such as ‘David Attenborough: A life on our Planet’ receiving glowing reviews.
Has Covid-19 helped the environment?
Carbon emission sharply fell during lockdown. Images of the clear Venice canals, and increase in wildlife within our cities and blue skies over Delhi illustrated the changes.
Sustainable lifestyle choices
Time at home coupled with an increase in awareness about climate change has led many of us to try new sustainability tips. Perhaps spending the time to learn more about seasonal foods, trying to eat less meat, focusing on recycling or trying a new reusable product. Of course we have to be wary and realise that, spending more time at home may also lead to an increase in electricity and gas use and and increase in water use.
3 Lilypads Tips for trying to be more sustainable at home…
Reusable period products: Lockdown is the perfect time to try a reusable period product for the first time. You are able to go the bathroom as much as possible and it does not matter as much if you leak. You can learn more about your period and cut down your menstrual waste at the same time. Why not try our pads today.
Cut down water use: The average UK person uses 142 litres of water every day. Reducing your shower length by as little as a minute can save more than 5 gallons of water.Find out more.
Food waste: Food waste is most likely the largest part of your personal waste. Composting can be an amazing way to avoid this waste as food cannot degrade properly in landfill. By composting you will prevent the greenhouse gases released from food waste. Of course not everyone may have access to a garden. Contact your local council and share your desire to compost food- they can put you in touch with food recycling or local composting initiatives.
You may have heard or seen the phrase ‘Veganuary’ recently online. But what is Veganuary and why is it so important?
Veganuary is an annual challenge run by the non-profit organisation Veganuary. It began in 2014 and the mission is to encourage people to eat a vegan diet for the month of January. Amazingly, a record 500000 people have signed up to Veganuary in 2021 highlighting how popular the challenge has become.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet encourages a plant focused diet and avoid any animal products such as meat or dairy. There can be variations in how people interpret animal products. Some will avoid products such as honey and others choose to consume it. Subsequently, there is a difference between a vegan diet and a vegan lifestyle. Those who chose a vegan lifestyle are more likely to have chosen to for ethical reasons. They avoid animal products in all aspects of their lives including clothing or toiletries.
Why 2021 is a good year for vegans…
The UK major supermarkets such as Tesco, Aldi and Asda have all released new vegan ranges for the month providing lots more options. The way that supermarkets and food chains have embraced Veganuary has been game changing for vegans providing more options and replacements than ever before.
Why people go vegan…
There are a number of different reasons for choosing to reduce the amount of animal products in their diets. These include opposing animal suffering, improving health and reduce the negative impact of their diet on the environment. The environmental impact has come to forefront of the vegan discourse most recently with more and more research revealing the positive impact it can have.
The Veganuary envision a vegan world, “a world without animal farms or slaughterhouses”. A world where food production does not lead to climate crisis. Veganuary is predominately focused on the ethical and environmental impact and is not a challenge for weight loss despite what many might think.
Along with other areas of the sustainability movement, it is important to remember that not all lifestyle changes are accessible. We have to recognise that food inequality still exists in the UK and across the globe. Access to vegan food is not an equal playing field. Access to vegan foods is becoming more accessible and affordable however there is a lot of work to be done. It is important that we avoid judgemental veganism and realise that everyone should be fighting for a more fair and equal world collectively. We should encourage individuals to make the changes which work for them, even if that is partly changing a diet rather than encouraging an all or nothing attitude.
Find out more about sustainability through our podcast where we chat about almost ‘blood anything’.
Reusable period pads: Lilypads reflections and looking forward
Today, I thought I would look back on 2020 and shine a light on the inspiration behind our pads. Although I am not a fan of the ‘New year, new me’ narrative, I think the start of the year is always a nice reminder to pause and reflect. So, to start with let’s review how we got to where we are.
Looking back on 2020…
2020 was a challenging year of loss and listening. It has forced us to slow down, to lean in and learn more about the world we live in and the world we hope to live in.
I started working full-time for Lilypads in the Summer of 2020 (amongst the craziness) after graduating. So with a focus on reflection I thought I would share my Lilypads highlights with you today.
Crowdfunder: Although a pretty hectic period, the Crowdfunder is a massive highlight for me. We smashed our Crowdfunder target in a week with YOUR help. I cannot thank everyone who supported us enough.
The Time of the Week Podcast: Our podcast and social media has been an amazing way to connect with our customers. We love chatting about all the topics we love and get the chance to share a little bit of us with you. I am so excited to keep building on this community and connecting with our customers.
3. International work: Selling our pads has allowed us to work with amazing partners from around the world. For every pack we sell, we are able to sponsor a pack internationally. Consequently, using collaborative programmes we can help increase safe access to period products ensuring no one is limited by their period.
4. Dancing around the classroom: Lilypads education is one of my favourite aspects of what we do. Our programme is taught in a fun, inclusive and interactive way to try and tear down the stereotypes around puberty and periods. A real highlight for me was at the start of 2020 when we were still able to teach this in schools. Hopefully, we will be able to resume this at some point…
A massive step for Lilypads has been finally sharing our reusable period pads with you. Since starting selling these on our website we have also began to improve our pads based on feedback from our incredible customers.
So what is the inspiration behind our pads?
Reusable period pads are a comfy and sustainable alternative to disposable period pads. When we began developing our pads for our international model we tested these on our friends and family. The feedback we got was amazing and we quickly realised that many people with periods hated their current product.
They found them itchy or wasteful or hated having to use a plastic pad to back up their cup or tampon. We strongly believe in sustainability and believe it should not sacrifice comfort or effectiveness and should not be a luxury. Our pads are designed to be super comfortable, absorbent and discreet. They are designed to work well and make you feel comfortable throughout the day as well as cutting the carbon footprint of disposable pads by 90%.
Different pads with different aims
You may have seen on our website we have a range of our products including Back up pads, superstar pads, active pads and night pads. Each of these aims to solve a problem which people with periods commonly find with their current products. So what is the inspiration behind one of these?
Let’s start with the Backup Pads…
Why back up? We wanted to create a pad which could be used as a backup to internal products. We know that cups, tampons and discs can sometimes leak. That’s expected. We also know that even if we haven’t experienced a leak many of us will use a pad just in case. Extra reassurance is not a bad thing. It allows us take on the day, ace that presentation at work, get a PB in our running race smash a new dance move.
We designed our back-up pads with you in mind. Our team have periods. We know that sometimes the cup can just be a pain and not work or sometimes leak through our own experiences. We wanted to create a comfy pad which is not bulky or obvious. It is soft, thin and discreet. Perfect for extra reassurance without adding a monthly cost or a crinkly feeling.
Want to try our pads or find out more? Click here.
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