In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we started a project to produce biodegradable sanitary pads, a way to ensure the health and dignity of displaced women
Access to menstrual hygiene for women and girls is essential to avoid health complications and at the same time to preserve their dignity. In situations of emergency or prolonged crisis, however, the right to hygiene menstrual is often lost. And this only increases the vulnerability of women, particularly the difficulties in performing daily activities during menstruation. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the province of North Kivu, multiple human rights violations perpetrated against the community have forced many people to leave their homelands. This situation of emergency, of loss of resources, has primarily affected the most vulnerable people, and in particular, women and girls, who have thus lost access to menstrual hygiene.
Visible was the concern on the faces of the many women we interviewed, due to the lack of availability of adequate hygiene kits.“I am a displaced girl from Mungote camp in Kitshanga, and for a long time my parents did not have the opportunity to buy sanitary napkins for me. Until INTERSOS intervened,” said one of the girls involved in the project. Thanks to the collaboration with UNHCR, INTERSOS launched the “Heshima” project, aimed at promoting hygiene and the self-production of sanitary pads by displaced women in the Kitshanga area. The project has had a very positive impact on the population, both for the general increase in access to hygiene, and for the development of new employment opportunities for local women, through the local sale of self-produced pads.
In Kitshanga and in the two IDP sites of Mungote and Kahele, MakaPads, biodegradable pads made of papyrus fibres and recycled paper, had already been distributed in the past, but without much success due to their poor quality. That is why it was decided to start a discussion with women and girls, to find alternative solutions, possibly local, which in the end brought great benefits: the women also started to take courses in making cloth towels and soap.
Thanks to the use of washable and resistant pads and the production of soap, the contraction of infections has greatly decreased. And many women have also been able to go to school or work during their periods thanks to the serenity associated with the new pads, something that was practically impossible before.
Improved health and daily activities have made the women we have helped more serene and stronger. Ensuring access to rights means being part of the process that also restores dignity and safety.