[Uganda] Empowering Women by Design

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Diana Sierra and Pablo Freund – Huffington Post – Friday, 28 February 2014 (originally published 26 Feb)

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently pledged to advance gender equality. However, this major global challenge has been on the agenda for decades, whilst women continue to face enormous social, economic and cultural barriers to achieving real equality. The challenge is that some of the fundamental barriers to women’s empowerment remain hidden, such as the lack of access to products and education to properly manage menstruation.

In many religions and cultures, menstruating women are considered impure or are associated with evil spirits and curses, which result in lifestyle and well-being limitations imposed on them. These beliefs severely limit women’s social participation and often result in neglect, deprivation and even violence. Underlying the cycle of punitive attitudes that encumber women’s health is the absolute lack of sanitary facilities and limited access to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) products. This ultimately reinforces the stigmas when blood stains surface, and a natural biological cycle that could be easily managed in private becomes every girl’s and woman’s public nightmare.

As a woman and as a designer, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to address this issue and create a solution, as designers do. Using only the materials I had on hand: an umbrella, mosquito netting, thread, scissors and a needle, I made the first prototype for a reusable and washable waterproof pad-holder/pouch that attached to the panties and could be filled with any available safe disposable or reusable absorbent material — e.g. toilet paper, cotton wool, gauze, repurposed cloth- giving women and girls the option to adapt it according to their access to water and available resources . . .

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