Burkina Faso: Women save money and protect the environment with reusable sanitary pads 

July 22, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

In the Hauts-Bassins region of Burkina Faso, winter is fast approaching and fieldwork will start soon. It’s market day in Orodara, a city in this part of western Burkina Faso, and like several women from the neighboring villages, Alima Barro is on her way to the market. She rides her back and chats calmly, her baby tied securely to her back.

Married and 27 years old, Mrs. Barro has been using environmentally-friendly menstrual pads for the past two years and wants to convince others to use them too. She says she saves money and stays comfortable in the soft pads. On the outskirts of the cities of Bobo-Dioulasso and Orodara, more and more women are using reusable pads during menstruation and to protect themselves after giving birth.

The local organization Actions pour les besoins des femmes (Action for the needs of women) makes a new cotton pad with multiple advantages. They promote these pads throughout the region and their initiative has increasingly persuaded women to choose reusable pads instead of the single-use pads sold in the market.

Mrs. Barro says the new pads help her during menstruation: “Before, I used pieces of cloth—that is the “grandma” method—but once the blood has clotted, the piece became hard and dry, which caused irritation between the legs. It would even happen that the blood would stain my wrap skirt, something that is poorly perceived and very shameful for a Burkinabe woman.”

Mrs. Barro was convinced by Actions pour les besoins des femmes to use the environmentally-friendly pads. This decision requires an investment of at least 6,000 FCFA ($10.25 US) but promises three years of comfort.

Thanks to the NGO initiative, Burkinabe women have access to non-disposable and biodegradable pads. The pads are designed to be worn for three years and then disposed of with other garbage. They break down more quickly than the single-use pads in plastic packages that litter garbage dumps, trash cans, and toilets, sometimes clogging water flow.

The American organization Days for girls trained Actions pour les besoins des femmes to make the cotton pads. Denise Coulibaly is in charge of marketing at the Burkinabe organization and has risen to the challenge of promoting their use. The organization has sold more than 5,000 kits so far.

But despite the fact that the pads are absorbent, environmentally-friendly, economical, comfortable, sanitary, and discreet, challenges remain. Madam Coulibaly has traveled to regions like Bobo Orodara, Koudougou, and Kindi to talk about reusable sanitary pads, but many women are still unaware of them.

Elisabeth Kaboré uses and sells the pads in Kindi, 45 kilometres from Koudougou. To increase her customer base, she has to travel to regions like Kaya in the north, Fada in the east, and the capital Ouagadougou, in the centre of the country.

During sessions on sexual education, hygiene, and sanitation, Mrs. Coulibaly knows how to be convincing about the benefits of reusable sanitary pads. She explains: “Using these pads is healthy, without irritation, without allergies. They are economical and can be used for [up to] three years. They are environmentally-friendly [and] biodegradable. [They are] discreet, [and] they allow women to use them while attending to their activities, without drawing the attention of their relatives.”

Alima Sanata is another fan of the pads and, because she saves money by using them, she invited her friends to try them, too. The price varies depending on the kit. A mini-kit costs 1,800 FCFA ($3.08 US), and the medium-sized kit costs 3,500 FCFA ($6 US). A normal-sized kit costs 6,000 FCFA ($10.25 US) and the maternity kit costs 7,500 FCFA ($12.83 US).

Single-used pads cost 500 FCFA ($0.86 US) or about 6,000 FCFA ($10.25 US) per hear, so the reusable pads are a profitable investment. After just one year of using the reusable pads, women begin to save money—and they are saving the environment too.