Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tampax and Always - for whose benefit?

Some girls in sub-Saharan Africa have a hard time being educated. Even if they are considered worthy of it, their families may not be able to afford the fees, or the absence of their work at home. When they do manage to attend school they may find there is little or no sanitation, and this causes many to skip school if they are menstruating, or giving up altogether.

The Plan International project I mentioned in an earlier post addresses this problem specifically, with toilet blocks designed in consultation with girls, and getting to the root of the problem. School attendance has improved sufficiently for the project to be rolled out to the rest of the country.

Two days ago Procter & Gamble FemCare brands announced a similar program in Kenya.

Working with HERO, the Protecting Futures program brings together the brands' global resources to help make a positive impact on these young girls by improving access to feminine hygiene products as well as education and health services, said Michelle Vaeth, Protecting Futures Program Director for P&G.

The program will bring puberty education, traveling health educators, nutritious feeding programs, educational support services, a pad distribution program, and significant construction projects to nine schools in the first year.

All very fine until I reached the pad distribution program, and I started to wonder if Tampax or Always are really suited to a life of poverty or near-poverty in rural sub-Saharan Africa. The costs of continuing provision will be high and who will cover those costs when the girls leave school? How will they manage when the facilities provided at the school are no longer available to them?

I would have been happier if they were providing mooncups which are much safer, re-usable and last for years. I can't help feeling that there is little altruism in Procter & Gamble's efforts, and that they are hoping to turn the girls into paying customers. And it starts to sound a tiny bit like the free samples of baby milk powder distributed even where it is ill-advised, just to stimulate a market.

I suppose it's not surprising that the announcement appears in CNN Money.


  1. I think you have hit the nail on the head. When I was a health visitor, we used to try to boycott Nestle over the baby milk to Africa issue.

    Now that the affluent West is (slowly) giving up smoking, these so very kind tobacco companies are acting like drug dealers (which, of course they are, and selling tobacco products cheaply to the Thirld World.

  2. I had never heard of a mooncup to now. I really wonder how efficient they are. My periods out did tampons and pads. Do they need to be fitted?

  3. I'll admit that I don't know a lot about those parts of Africa, but I wonder how they're going to go with tampons ... pads I can see being useful, but if my own mother (Australian, privileged, modern, feminist) had problems with me using them (and still does, incidentally, despite the fact that I'm 35 and have three kids) because they go "up there" (sigh), I wonder if more "traditional" societies are going to view them?

    OR, I could well be falling for a stereotype, as I said, I don't know a lot about that area's culture.

  4. Hm...sounds lik your suspicion can be right. Sadly enough.

    Interesting. Those mooncups haven't arrived over here in the stores yet.

  5. Thanks all for your comments.

    Elaine, yes, the tobacco companies are doing it too, and in their case it seems even worse, as you say, drug dealing.

    Hathor, I'd heard of mooncups only relatively recently, say in the last couple of years. They don't need to be fitted, that much I do know, and there are different sizes. I found another company, Gladrags, who offer different types and also natural sponge tampons.

    I think you're right anonymous, I don't think tampons would be acceptable for many, especially in rural areas. When you consider that one reason given for the continuation of FGM is to preserve chastitiy, it seems unlikely that they will be happy for their daughters to use tampons.

    I suspect there would be a considerable difference between rural and urban women and girls, but this campaign is aimed at areas with schools which have inadeqate sanitation. P&G are providing the water supply, the sanitation and incinerators for disposing of the pads. This is rural Africa, where there won't be running water. What are the girls going to do when they get home?

    There was a rather more critical report in the New York Times

  6. Maia from Touchingly Naive has posted much more eloquently than I ever will, on the same topic.

  7. Tampons are not a good option in African Nations. They view them as "dirty" and "sinful". They believe they take away virginity and "stretch" the vagina. Most women would not use them. Pads on the other hand they might. But I know the disposal will be a nightmare. Most African Women would not just throw it away in the trash. They would fear that it might be used against them in a blood spell. I don't think this will work long term.

  8. Hi Missy, thanks for your comment. And I hope you are right that it won't work in the long term. I'm afraid I just don't believe in any big business doing something out of the kindness of its heart. They are hoping to profit out of it in some way.

  9. Check out it's a site that collects (mostly homemade) reusable cloth pads to send to girls in Africa. I don't run the site, but I've donated a few pads to it and I think it's a great sustainable alternative.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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