Banana fibers to solve sanitary problems

A woman cutting banana fibers                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Photo: Courtesy of SHE

According to the UNESCO report on puberty education and menstrual hygiene management, at least one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. Thus, reproduction conversations have been a taboo in most African cultures since a long time ago. So, women suffer a lot from this situation and it affects most of them in the rural area who cannot go to school or afraid to do any other type of work in public during the menstruation period and are forced to isolate themselves.

Back in 2008, a group of three MIT students led by Elizabeth Scharpf  packed their bags, landed in Rwanda and co-founded Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) to address the issue of lacking access to cheap women sanitary pads.

Food security is still a tremendous issue in Africa and Rwanda is not an isolated case. However, the knowledge or capacity on the agriculture waste management is key to use all available resources efficiently and drive the economy with simple but effective clean tech. So an idea was born that can help with the issue of agricultural waste and help young girls. 

What are SHE pads made from?

SHE pads are made from banana trunks of which they extract fibers that are processed. SHE set its base in the Eastern province of Rwanda, very known to have a high banana production. The process starts with the farmers collecting banana trees and by using the extractor machines, they get fibers, the latter have a high rate of absorption properties. They remove leaves and roots from the ripe banana to make it ready to extract the fibers, they obtain a fluff which proceeds to the green sachet packaging to avoid humidity and the pad cotton is generated! The process has been made so simple so that the pads are produced with very minimum processes.

“SHE wanted to start something very innovative that could narrow down the cost of sanitary pads and environmental friendly product.” Said John Uwayezu, SHE Managing Director

Benefits of the SHE pads

The affordable SHE pad is made from the local materials, it cost USD$0.40 which makes it 35% less expensive compared to the available ones at the market. The process for making these pads has been made so simple with no chemicals that affects most massive industrial based factories, and using the banana trunks helps them to get fibers promptly.

SHE Impact and way forward

  Final packaged sanitary pads                                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: Courtesy of SHE

SHE has managed increase the source of income for farmers who were considering the banana trunks as useless but now everything from the banana plantation is useful. Currently they work with six cooperatives with around 1,200 people who have jobs of which 80% are women.

Besides the pad processing, SHE runs Menstrual Hygiene Management sessions among schools and rural areas to empower them on the basic sanitary knowledge, but also to break the menstrual public talk taboos that has been there for a while.

SHE plans to expand its operations to a large scale in Rwanda and other countries as well through different partnerships to increase diversified pads distribution channels. They also has a plan to start tackling other diversified sanitary products using innovative clean technologies.