Most people believe that universal education and equal opportunity is needed to improve the lot of women all over the world. But what about access to affordable, clean sanitary napkins and lifting some of the taboos around menstruation, which sometimes cause girls in developing nations to miss school -- or even drop out entirely -- when they have their period?
We've noted before how menstruation is really the elephant in the room: "No one talks about it much, but if the fortunes of women worldwide are to be lifted, one surefire way would be to provide a long-lasting, cheaper menstrual option for women in the developing world." Potentially providing this safe, affordable option for women and girls living in poverty is Flo, a toolkit created by Mariko Higaki Iwai, Sohyun Kim, and Tatijana Vasily of the Art Center College of Design.
Ecouterre, Flo is an "all-in-one washer and dryer" set consisting of two bowls, a basket, and string and a Tyvek pouch that allows one to carry clean pads to school or work, and to carry used pads home.
The designers consulted with professionals working in the field to come up with a design that is both discreet but empowering for girls. After all, disposable pads are relatively unaffordable, and girls may not know about or have access to safe, reusable options, say the designers:
In parts of the world, girls miss school during when they are menstruating because they do not have access to sanitary products and are afraid of menstrual leaks. As a result, many drop out of school when they hit puberty. Disposable sanitary pads are too expensive for population living below $1.25 purchasing power parity per day, and more than 90 percent of girls still use rags instead of pads. Consequently, they are hidden under the bed, on top of the roof, or inside cracks in the wall. Rags and reusable pads are always wet and are causing reproductive infections and illnesses.
Flo's bowls and string are made for spinning, to speed up drying times. The designers claim that Flo's closed capsule design cuts down water and detergent use by half, and that the drying basket can be covered up with any piece of fabric so that women and girls can hang up their pads outside in the sun, while still keeping them covered. The idea is to give women and girls access to an essential product that makes their lives easier, while empowering them to slowly change local attitudes and taboos toward menstruation.
Costing only $3, the designers intend to further develop the product in order to bring it to market. But they do admit that there is more to tackle in the bigger picture:
We realized the solution would not be as simple as giving them access to sanitary products. There were bigger challenges that needed to be addressed, too, such as social norms and water sanitation. We wanted to design a tool that would empower these girls and create sustainable system to use and reuse sanitary pads.
Having recently been named as a finalist in the 2015 James Dyson Award, we hope to see Flo and other similar projects give women all over the world a greater sense of control and pride in their lives. More over at the 2015 James Dyson Award and Flo.