A national dialogue on menstrual hygiene management has agreed on conducting comprehensive research that will set new standards for manufacturing locally-made reusable sanitary pads (RSPs).
This follows preliminary research findings from a feasibility study of reusable pad development that showed that despite innovations in manufacturing reusable pads, there are no standards to guide and prevent the risks that were not foreseen in this research.
For instance, the above research conducted by Water-Aid Rwanda, and the Women Economic Empowerment and Advisory Trust (WEEAT) shows 77% of eight districts were not aware of reusable pads though the evolution of awareness had grown from 1.1% in 2016 to 38% in 2021.
The findings showed that Disposable modern pads were used 30.8% more than reusable ones at 12.1% and that 7.5% still used Cloth/tissue /Traditional methods despite the other options.
“These primary findings, presented to stakeholders in March, were not enough. The recommendation from all line ministries is to carry out in-depth research to focus on effectiveness (standards) besides access and cost,” said Dr. Jean Pierre Hakizimana, the research consultant.
Building on the gaps noticed in the feasibility study in areas of costs remaining expensive, inaccessible, and having a direct impact on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, especially for girls’ education, the government, and stakeholders agreed to move forward with the standardization of reusable pads to make them accessible and safer for use.
The new research on standards developed by the Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) will focus on informing the standards development to ensure access, especially after a previous feasibility study showed that 92.1% agree with the use of RSP as a solution to the community, though 41.9% say they don’t use them due to lack and limited access.
This standards research, to be completed December 2023, is estimated to take $129,000 and will tackle the issues of terms and conditions, size and materials; product performance; packaging; sampling and testing on effects and usability; product test methods like absorption; and manufacturing environment (requirements) but also Scientific/Clinical data on effects of used RSPs.
According to RSB officials, none of this exists and the go-ahead to authorize (certification) the locally produced RSPs in accordance with the approved national standards has been delayed because of the certainty of the made-in-Rwanda sanitary pad product.
“Without standards everything we do is volatile. We are not saying the solution is bad but we need to be sure of the product and we are sure it will be positive. We have taken five years of being silent about the product approval but it’s because of the uncertainties which can be positive or negative but we are 90 percent it will be positive,” said Samuel Mporanzi, the RSB Quality Management System and Accreditation Analyst.
Florence Uwatwembi, the RSB Gender Mainstreaming Specialist said that the above research will be guided by the Gender Equality- Requirements for Promotion, implementation and Accountability Standard (RS 560:2023) which has been developed by the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO, United Nations agencies and Stakeholders to give a certifiable National Gender Equality Standard.
Vestine Mukeshimana, the Acting Country Director of WaterAid Rwanda, said that the government of Rwanda has done a lot in implementing gender-sensitive policies and programs and that they are committed to supporting the success of ensuring women get sanitary services.
“For us as WaterAid, this is something that we think is a natural right for all women and we are going to ensure that it shouldn’t be a burden for a woman to have monthly periods because its nature and a sign of life,” Mukeshimana said.
Jeanne Mwiliriza, the Coordinator of the Tubahumurize Association that makes RSPs said that for local manufacturers to stay relevant in business there is a need for the government to consider tax reliefs on materials as prices will be affected (increase) with the new standards in place.
Gender-based organizations also called for an increase in equal access for RSPs to all women, just as it is for other hygiene and healthcare services such as condoms.