Research and Development of an affordable, biodegradable sanitary product for increased use and awareness of feminine hygiene in Rwanda
Over the last year, Minazi have been working with Dufatanye, a non-profit organization based in Rwanda. In summer 2021, it was identified that lack of affordable sanitary products was a major problem in the villages that Dufatanye closely work with. It was found that most women found pads in the market expensive and this meant they were unable to purchase sanitary pads as often as sufficiently necessary for their needs. Additionally, girls were unable to access basic sanitation information surrounding periods and were often worried about leaks as they would feel shame if stains were visible. When this happened, they would often have to go home and miss days from school, resulting in lower attendance of women and girls compared to male counterparts and a subsequent lower performance overall. In some poorer families, women often use rags or cloths instead of safe sanitary products. Period poverty is a huge global concern; currently 18% of women and girls globally miss work or school because they cannot afford sanitary products.
To address this challenge and to increase the affordability of sanitary products in the region, Minazi’s main role has been to support Dufatanye to locally produce sanitary pads that are cheaper and environmentally sustainable.
To support Dufatanye in obtaining an informed understanding of the current sanitary measures in the local context, we conducted research on the current social attitudes, pain points and desires on the topic of Menstruation in the Nyanza district of Rwanda, using a variety of emphatic design approaches such as user journeys and personas. This led to key insights on necessary design interventions that Dufatanye could introduce in order to increase awareness and access to menstrual hygiene products in the community.
Additional to the research, we also supported Dufatanye by conducting an innovation feasibility study to understand the viability of producing pads using locally available manufacturing processes and raw materials such as banana fiber, and developed simple methodologies for the production of cheap, accessible sanitary pads. In all stages, we provided design interventions that were immediately effective but also in consideration of long term sustainability and impact.
In collaboration with Dufatanye and researchers from Imperial College London, we are also able to support the R&D for the pad development and our researchers are currently developing the various layers of the sanitary pad such that it is optimized for functionality, biodegradable and meet necessary hygiene standards. Our approach prioritises prototyping and testing, so that we can iterate efficiently through the stages of development. Additionally, we aim to provide the technological and design direction towards the creation of an information dissemination platform (or service) to increase the awareness of menstrual hygiene, guiding pad users to the necessary information surrounding usage, safety and hygiene. Our designs focus on user access that is simple and effective, and work with the available technological resources so that it is easy for users to be more informed. This would help Dufatanye meet the second main objective which is to increase awareness of menstrual hygiene and resolve common concerns around menstruation for women.
The overall goal of this project is to increase access to sanitary products in rural communities and increases knowledge of menstrual hygiene and sanitation so that women and girls can go to school with more awareness, lowering the feeling of shame or discomfort around periods. Our research and development prioritises development of a product that will be available for lower than the current market price. This will increase the access of pads for the low-income community members, particularly those that currently resort to rags or cloths.
A core commitment of Minazi is environmental sustainability, and all of our interventions consider full product life cycles and have a holistic understanding of the design space. To minimise impact on the environment, the banana fiber for the sanitary pads is obtained from a banana plantation, where annually harvested banana tree trunks are otherwise wasted. Additionally, a biodegradable sanitary pad is being developed because our research shows that sanitation infrastructure in the region is not yet fully developed and most pads get disposed or burned, resulting in chemical waste that could enter the food and water streams in the region. The other raw materials for the sanitary pad are also locally sourced and has a positive economic impact in the region of Nyanza.
“We have had a great time working with Minazi. The team is committed, resourceful and innovative. The dynamics and insights they bring to research and implementation contributes to our project awareness “