'Period poverty' — in which women and girls struggle to access and afford menstrual products — is particularly bad in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s why a new initiative in Tanzania is taking a 21st-century, FMCG approach to a centuries-old problem.
Many women and girls in developing countries still struggle to access and afford the menstrual products they need. This “period poverty” is particularly bad in the hardest-to-reach areas of sub-Saharan Africa, where it’s unfairly holding them back. That’s why we’re working on a new initiative in Tanzania that takes a 21st-century, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) approach to a centuries-old problem. And it involves soft drinks and safety locks.
Even in the UK, 1 in 10 young women are impacted by period poverty — 137,000 girls take time off school because of it. In sub-Saharan Africa, though, the problem is far more widespread and creates fundamental gender imbalances. Homemade alternatives are ineffective, often unhygienic, leaky and smelly. The resulting absenteeism from work and school creates a barrier to progress that damages individuals, societies and economies.
Challenging this isn’t easy. Stigmas and myths are deeply embedded in society and culture, and government policies are slow to change. Water, sanitary, hygiene and disposal facilities are also often non-existent in schools, and the general awareness of menstruation and availability of commercial products is low. At Windward, we’re working with Institutions for Inclusive Development in Tanzania — a five-year programme funded by UKAid and IrishAid, and managed by Palladium; alongside SNV, BBC Media Action and the Overseas Development Institute — to overcome these hurdles and get these products to where they’re needed most.
Long-term change is going to take innovation, which is why we’re moving away from traditional interventions and applying a commercial and FMCG approach. Effective cross-sector collaboration between government departments, NGOs, product manufacturers and channel partners is still necessary, but we’re taking practical steps to push the boundaries of the market for sanitary products.
Here’s how we’re doing it in two (of the many) underserved districts away from Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam:
We’ve based our approach on a detailed outlet-mapping survey of 3,000 wholesale and retail outlets — including many small, informal stores known as dukas — by last-mile distribution company Route Pro. Product suppliers are using this data to understand what is currently selling and where, building targeted sales plans that reach out further to underserved areas, and gathering better knowledge of the key market constraints.
Bringing brands on board
Flora Njelekela — founder and CEO of Anuflo Industries; which sells its brand, Hedhi Cup, in Tanzania — speaks to a class about menstrual health. Hedhi the first menstrual cup to be granted a license in Tanzania in October 2018. | Image courtesy of Windward Commodities
We’re working with popular brands such as Always and Human Cherish, locally manufactured brand Kipepeo and new entrants Glory and Binti; as well as new products such as Hedhi menstrual cups, and tech innovations including period apps. We’ve analysed their current sales and channel partner terms and relationships, reviewed their go-to-market strategies and undertaken consumer research to identify opportunities to improve.
We’re also trialling innovative new routes to markets, including last-mile delivery solutions; and targeted sampling and education in schools, universities and hospitals, so that women and girls can find out where products are available and how much they cost. On top of that, we’re supporting the launch of smaller, low-cost and value packs into the market.
Piggy-backing on logistics
This is where the soft drinks and locks come in. We’re working with a supplier whose expertise is the delivery of FMCG products, including drinks and locks. They’re now taking low-cost sanitary products that last vital mile — this means logistics costs are shared and we get the benefit of their last-mile delivery experience. The supplier uses mobile apps that track sales by store and GPS location, so they can see how far their product is reaching.
There will be challenges, and we’ll need to adapt and refine our approach as we go. But if this initiative makes the difference we think it can, it’ll provide a template for others to follow.