Innovation

How This Underwear Could Keep Young African Women in School 

by Aarian Marshall

November 5, 2015
via Facebook

When product designer Diana Sierra was in graduate school, she took an internship in Uganda. Young women there confided in her: It was difficult, they said, to go to school while on their periods. It was difficult to afford or even find sanitary pads or tampons, so the young women told Sierra that they sometimes just skipped school.

The Ugandan girls are not alone. UNICEF estimates that one in ten school age girls in Africa do not go to school during menstruation. The World Bank says these young women are absent from school about four days every four weeks.

"We're not talking about rocket ships; we're talking about sanitary pads," Sierra told NPR in a recent interview. "Yet they both have the same effect. They take you places."

via Be Girl

Today, Sierra’s company Be Girl is working to ensure that all girls who want to go to school can—even when they’re menstruating. Be Girl’s underwear and reusable sanitary pads include waterproof pouches that can be stuffed with any absorbent material, like cloth, cotton or toilet paper.

"So you go kind of like McGyver-style," Sierra told NPR. "Just stuff it with anything that is safe."

When a pouch is filled, girls can simply throw out the old material and replace it. The underwear and pads are easily washed and dry quickly.

As Be Girl launches a pilot program in Ethiopia next year, the company is betting that young women will feel more comfortable purchasing and talking about regular underwear than pads and tampons.

"This is not even about the product itself—it's about how girls feel when they have the product," Sierra told Fast Company. "One of the girls said, ‘What I like most about the pad is that I feel proud to be [a] girl.’" 

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How This Underwear Could Keep Young African Women in School