Can you tell me a little about the work that you do?
I have been an entrepreneur for 9 years now, and 5 years ago I founded my company Kasole Secrets. We have developed Glory pads made from bamboo, in addition to running menstrual hygiene campaigns where we train the community and the youth on why menstruation should not be treated as a women and girl’s agenda, but rather a community agenda.
How did you get started in this line of work?
When I was an adolescent I had to deal with very painful menstrual cramps, but whenever I mentioned them people around me would brush it off because “everyone goes through this.” When I went on to university to pursue my Bachelors of Engineering, my challenges with menstruation doubled. In addition to menstrual cramps, I also struggled with the poor quality of the sanitary pads. Their lack of absorbency caused them to leak often, sometimes staining my skirt. As a result I had to miss site visits in the fear that my classmates – most of whom were boys – would see the stains on my skirt appear after hours spent traveling to these sites.
Because of my experiences, I decided to take action after university so that other girls wouldn’t have to go through the same struggles that I did – I wanted them to be as comfortable working while using pads as they were before they began menstruating. I started selling sanitary pads, and through my business I realized that women have so many additional challenges, including social taboos, lack of access to water, poor infrastructure, and especially the lack of education on menstrual hygiene. This pushed me to take the next step with my business and begin working with women to teach classes about menstrual health and hygiene. Along the way, I reached out to friends who were gynecologists to join in helping me educate women in order to ensure the women were receiving adequate medical advice to their more health-oriented issues.
Around that time, I began wondering about the situation regarding menstrual health for girls specifically, which was why I started reaching out to schools. Beginning with the private schools, I was shocked to learn that some girls were using toilet paper, socks, or even lemon water despite having menstrual products available to them in school stores. When I asked why, they told me about how they feel very uncomfortable purchasing menstrual products from male shopkeepers, who often tease them about getting their periods. I realized then, ‘okay, we really need to look for a way to help find a holistic solution to solve the menstrual hygiene challenge.’
I decided to pioneer the International Celebration for Menstrual Hygiene Day starting in 2015, which helped to break the silence about menstruation and women’s reproductive health at the national level. It wasn’t easy but we have really tried our best to educate along the way, and now the menstrual movement has become very large, with many players on the ground to make sure that girls and women are not left behind.
Can you tell me about the design of the pads?
Glory pads are made with a mixture of bamboo and cotton. First, bamboo is by nature is very absorbent, odor minimizing, antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial. This helps to ensure that women and girls who use this product are protected against potential bacterial or fungal infections. Bamboo also has absorptive and odor-controlling qualities, allowing the pads to be comfortable to wear. While we don’t add any perfumes or chemicals, we do carbonate and add certain health values to the bamboo itself for the benefit of women who have irregular periods or menstrual cramps.
What are some examples of social stigmas behind menstruation?
Tanzania is a very big country with more than 125 tribes, each with its own culture and therefore social taboos towards menstruation. Some examples are:
- When you are menstruating you’re not supposed to stand before people, for example do a presentation, rather you’re just suppose isolate yourself and talk less (Shinyanga and Kigoma Region)
- You’re not supposed to hold an infant because you might cause them rashes or dwarfism (Tanga Region)
- If you cross a river by boat, the boat might sink (Mwanza and Mara Region)
- When you first get your period, you should tell your aunt first instead of your mother; otherwise your mother will die (Lindi and Mtwara Region)
- Menstruating girls are not supposed to go to school because the evil spirits that reside in schools might drink their blood and kill them (Bagamoyo Region)
- You should not tell a man under any circumstances, even if it’s your husband, that you are menstruating because it is a shame (Most Regions in Tanzania)
- If you pick vegetables you will make the soil impure and all the vegetables in the field will go dry (Morogoro Region)
- Girls who use reusable pads aren’t supposed to hang them out to dry for fear of someone seeing them and using them for witchcraft (Most Regions in Tanzania)
- Women shouldn’t dispose of used menstrual products together because if the blood mixes each woman will begin having longer periods (Dodoma Region)
We strive to keep educating communities and find out the source of these beliefs rather than simply telling them that they are wrong. The end goal is for them to understand menstruation, not to ostracize them.
What actions can the government of Tanzania take to help break the cycle?
When it comes to the biological aspects of sexual health and reproduction, you often find teachers trying to gloss over the subject as much as possible in school to ensure students don’t get to ask too many questions. The major thing that I will say for the government is that menstrual hygiene and puberty should be not only mandated in school curriculum, but also in teaching colleges so that when we get new teachers in the system, the teachers are empowered and unashamed of teaching about puberty and menstruation.
I strongly believe in education as the solution to many of the challenges in menstrual hygiene management. From boys embarrassing and shaming girls in school to predominantly-male finance ministers in cabinet, the issues around menstrual health are rooted in lack of knowledge. When talking about infrastructure or access to water, it is important to realize that the people who are installing these are men. Educating them allows them to understand menstruation and make structures more accommodating to women when they build them.
At the same time, education also serves to empower women. We have a number of women in positions of power but because of social norms they feel uncomfortable speaking about menstruation publicly. Normalizing the agenda opens up the conversations and allows women to say ‘yes, we have to talk about it because it is an important issue. It’s the source of humanity.’
Which women do you draw your inspiration from?
To me, I would say that my mom always inspires me, though I didn’t come to realize her strength until I was an adult. By the age of 29, she was already divorced and a mother to 3 kids. Despite not having gone to school, she really believed in education and raised us accordingly. I could see her struggling so much when we didn’t have money, but she always made sure that we ate and that she made time to do schoolwork with us, despite having her own frustrations. I am where I am today because she challenged me to really stretch myself and value others.
In a professional sense I have always been inspired by Michelle Obama. Often times, when I am feeling overwhelmed by the challenges in the world and losing faith as an entrepreneur, I go on YouTube and listen to one of her speeches to feel more encouraged.