KAMPALA —In Uganda, menstruation management presents a daunting challenge for so many adolescent girls and women. The inability to adequately manage their periods means they often choose to forego school and stay at home for several days each month, according to a study on menstrual health management in Uganda by the International Rescue Committee.
Smart Girls Foundation is a non-profit, girl-centered development organization in Uganda that endeavours to empower and mentor girls in health and education through their Smart Bags for Girls initiative. The Smart Bag, a backpack designed with the user in mind, consists of a backpack, reusable sanitary towels, a menstrual pad sewing kit, and a menstrual health management information booklet. With a $50,000 grant in 2018 from the UNFPA Innovation Fund, Smart Girls Foundation designed, produced and distributed more than 5,000 Smart Bags in central and eastern Uganda in 2019.
During distribution, the team ensures that existing community structures and leaders are involved in the process at schools by working with Local Councils, the Office of the Prime Minister, and partners on the ground. Parents, teachers, and guardians are also involved in learning how to sew menstrual pads as well as understanding how to support the girls through hygienic menstrual health management.
“It is so exciting to see how the bags help them to continue going to school and feel safe and not embarrassed by their menstruation,” said Jamila Mayanja, Smart Girls Foundation Founder.
With feedback and guidance from UNFPA, Smart Girls Foundation has launched a new and improved Smart Bag that is now made out of recycled plastic material and has a solar kit installed onto the bag. The refined bag helps young girls in rural areas access light at night so that they are able to read their school books and revise.
The foundation partnered with Reform Africa, a local start-up organization to produce the new and improved bag. The revised version uses Reform Africa’s recycled plastic waterproof material for the exterior while maintaining Smart Girls Foundation’s concept for providing menstrual kits within school backpacks for girls.
Reform Africa is an organization that aims to reduce plastic waste in landfills by creating a durable and waterproof plastic material that is fashioned into stylish bags for adult and modern users.
“We were previously using local kitenge fabric for the bags, but sometimes the girls struggled with the rainy weather or when their pads were soiled. So the partnership with Reform Africa was naturally a great idea,” Mayanja said.
“Reform Africa was previously making bags for adult consumers, but we were looking for ways to help impact communities in a greater way,” said Faith Aweko, Founder of Reform Africa. “The introduction to Smart Girls has helped us to reach a broader market and help girls who truly need it with our product and designs.”
UNFPA provided support for the Smart Girls Foundation and Reform Africa partnership to produce and distribute 1,500 bags of the new Smart Bag in 2020 throughout Kyaka II settlement and in Kampala. Both refugees and girls in host communities received the bags.