Innovating Menstrual Hygiene Products for Women and Girls with Disabilities
With Faith Njahîra
World Health Organization statistics place the percentage of persons with disabilities in the world at 15% and various countries have different figures influenced by the nature of data collection instruments and practices which are not always fashioned to properly capture disability specific data.
The 2009 Kenyan census placed the figure at about six million at the time which has received varying reactions by the disability community and Kenyans at large. Women and girls with disabilities occupy and play a great part in all sectors of the Kenyan community. This is however dependent on how much of the spaces, physical, virtual innovations that have been fashioned to accommodate our disability-specific needs.
When it comes to menstruation for women, and girls with disabilities in Kenya, we for the most part have similar challenges as our non-disabled peers whereby, we get our first bits of information about menstruation in the school setting where groupings of male and female were taken to separate rooms and the girls would be handed with packs of sanitary pads were by an older woman who went ahead to explain that we would bleed when we came of age every month. That goes for those of us who have gone through the formal education system.
I may not speak for all the women and girls with disabilities and their menstruation experience but my own.
My periods evened out in my late teens and started to become a monthly nightmare in my twenties. I have muscular dystrophy which is a progressive muscle wasting disabling condition which impacts on my mobility. The luxury of strength to do physical exerting activities such as washing clothes or going shopping in a world that is full of stairs is one that has progressively become elusive.
This has meant that I will often ask for menstruation supplies from people helping with my shopping – and I’m okay with someone seeing my underwear if they are assisting me with personal hygiene-. Just as most ladies who get their periods, those of us with disabilities have to go through various brands of sanitary pads available in the market to see which best suits them. Some disabilities come with a component of environmental sensitivity to materials used, some of us need to use diapers because of incontinence which may be a factor to our disabilities.
For wheelchair users even part-time ones like myself, we might be seated down for long periods at a time and at times rely on someone helping us change position. This is where innovations in menstrual hygiene products are put to the test. I found out that extra-long sanitary pads with a wider back such as Confidence night pad, among others, make it that we are not worried that our menstrual flow cannot be contained.
For moments when we are using diapers then this gets slightly complicated as incontinence products do not always factor in the possibility of menstruating and the other way around. With the cost, these two groups of products being so high with a 10-pack of diapers in Kenya costing about Ksh. 700, this at times also compromises the hygiene of women and girls with disabilities who are already disenfranchised by the capitalist society with high rates of unemployment.
Innovations that recognize that we cannot draw the line between our disabilities and our genders which also surviving with the high cost of living in the country would be a welcome thing with specific consultations with the end users. Government subsidies to these products, the quality, and friendliness, would be a welcome thing given that tax-exemption available for those with disabilities does not influence the market prices of these items.