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Empowering women through sanitary ware - Interview with Risitseng Rukasha, Integrated Sustainable Livelihoods
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
January 13, 2011

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What need did you see that made you decided to start teaching communities to make sanitary pads?
I realised that school-going girls were not going to school during their monthly periods because they could not afford to mess [themselves] in school because they were using cloths. Some cited cow dung, newspapers, and tissues. So I realised that there is need to train mothers to make [the sanitary pads] for their daughter so that at least they could get their education. Listen

How do you think women and girls are affected by not having proper sanitary ware?
You can just imagine if it's exam time! It means the child will miss exams altogether. That child will always be backward. It makes people lose self-confidence. It's not just the child, it affects women. In the home if you are having your period, you lose your confidence. By empowering people to have a safe sanitary method, which is accessible to them, we are helping them with their self-confidence as a woman. It's your right. Throughout the month you have the right to be free to do whatever you want. It's pathetic because Zimbabwe produces cotton, and now people cannot afford to buy the sanitary pads that are produced using cotton. I understand we pay a high tax if you want to import sanitary pads. To me it was a challenge. We have the resources we have everything, but people cannot afford to buy that basic sanitary ware. Listen

How did you come up with the idea to make sanitary pads?
I went on the Internet and started researching what other countries were doing concerning sanitary ware. I found that a lot of organisations in Kenya and India had resorted to teaching people to make their own reusable sanitary pads.

Do you work with women only?
When I started the project I wanted to work with women only but we realised that the men were more interested in the project. They were saying that it benefited them more, because it was cost saving and now the reproductive health of their women has improved. So we work with both but 70% are women.

Which communities do you work in and how does the project operate?
We are working in Zvimba-Nyabira with mobile vulnerable populations, those who were displaced from the farms. We have got Shamrock Great, Sam Levy Village, the farm owned by Sam Levy. We are working with the French Embassy to get funding for another project in Mhondoro, Ngezi.

When we train the communities, first of all they have to understand that this is a business, so we train them in business. We procure sewing machines for them, and we get them into production groups, then they start producing the sanitary pads. We do the market linkages. Right now we are targeting the prisons. We feel that if we supply a lot of these pads to the prisons they will become less reliant on donors to give the prisoners sanitary pads. If the prison department agrees we will make it mandatory for women prisoners to make their own sanitary pads for their stay in prison. Listen

What do you think is the long-term effect of the project?
I think the basic point is that you improve the self-esteem of a person. A sanitary pad is a small thing, but when you give them that, it's like you have given them a life. I think it brings out the woman in everyone.

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