UhuruPads: a Global Partnership Bringing Education, Empowerment, and Employment to Tanzanian Girls and Women

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First 100% Biodegradable Sanitary Pad Production Center Launched

The driver is the education of girls. Educating girls has been proven to be among the highest yielding investment one can make in developing countries.

From lush Kentucky horse country, to the Mumbai slums made famous in “Slum Dog Millionaire,” to the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a unique collaboration is changing Tanzanian girls’ and women’s lives through women-run production centers making 100% biodegradable sanitary pads. UhuruPads – http://www.UhuruPads.org – was founded to ensure that every girl and woman has “uhuru” – the Swahili word for “freedom.” Awareness for the global challenge of girls and women desperate for sanitary products is on the rise most recently highlighted by Prince Harry and his bride, Meghan Markle, who encouraged well-wishers to provide hygiene products for poor girls and women, in lieu of wedding gifts.

In 2016, social entrepreneur and philanthropy advisor Laura Chauvin was visiting a Tanzanian school and realized its 500 girls had no sanitary products. There on behalf of 8-time NBA All-Star, Dwight Howard (who has long provided safe housing and school supplies for East African girls), she learned that hygiene products were beyond reach of most girls who also do not receive the information they need on the changes of puberty. These gaps become insurmountable barriers to school attendance, employment, and other opportunities. Gates Foundation research recently confirmed: families living on less than $2 per day often choose between their daughters’ hygiene products and family food. Those unable to afford products may use rags, dirt, or leaves, creating new health issues or school absence. Multiple absences lead to girls dropping out, consigning them to a life of poverty.

With Howard’s support, Chauvin sought a solution which would address the gaps in education, employment, and even empowerment – addressing taboos about menstruation which cause feelings of shame and embarrassment and threats to personal safety. The pursuit took her to India where, in the shadow of the Dharavi slum, she witnessed the impact of a hygiene pad technology developed by Aakar Innovations: “Their Anandi Pad is India’s first 100% compostable, high quality sanitary pad for poor girls and women. Women employees make the pads, creating an affordable, sustainable solution allowing girls and women to manage their flow in dignity. Basic hygiene education, critical to surviving childbirth, raising healthier, educated children, and emerging from poverty, is also part of their model. It was the right thing to ask for their help to bring it to Tanzania.”

With Aakar’s support and Howard as the project’s key funder, the first Tanzanian production center opened in late 2017. Now employing 12 women and producing more than 1000 pads each day, funds for a second center are being raised. Chauvin says “The driver is the education of girls. Educating girls has been proven to be among the highest yielding investment one can make in developing countries.”

Applauding Ms. Markle and the Prince on the awareness they've raised and inundated with support as her Louisville-team hosted one of a number of US events in conjunction with Menstrual Hygiene Day (an international commemoration held each May), Chauvin says the movement is growing: “This summer, a team of young women will raise funds to provide the pads and undergarments - which most girls also lack - to 2000 girls in Tanzania for an entire school year.” These “Uhuru Champions” will deploy to Tanzanian communities, trained to present health and hygiene education as part of their efforts. Chauvin says: “People everywhere can help create a world where menstrual hygiene is a human right so that girls grow up with the dignity and understanding that allows them to reach their full potential.”

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Laura Chauvin
since: 10/2015
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