Girls in rural Africa miss about 11% of their total school year due to menstruation, but this engineer has just developed a solution to remedy the problem.
For young women in first-world countries, a monthly visit from ‘Aunt Flo’ is usually an excuse to skip out on gym class. But in developing countries in Africa, a young girl’s inability to manage her period may force her to leave school altogether.
Such is what Diana Sierra witnessed when she was helping to empower women in Africa and South America working as an industrial engineer on innovative cookstoves and food processors. While she was participating in great work and helping to make peoples’ lives better, the very real problem of girls dropping out of school due to insufficient materials to manage their periods caused the engineer to step up and invent a solution to the crisis.
“Seeing girls lack the most basic supplies to manage their menstruation with dignity truly broke my heart,” said Sierra, now based in Washington, D.C. “As a woman and as a designer, I felt that I had to use my skills do something to help.”
Sierra knew that users of the ideal product would have to contend with scarce resources, so her first prototype, a waterproof pad holder with a mesh lining made of mosquito netting and umbrella fabric, could be stuffed with any available absorbent material.
But that design only solved one of the problems. In rural Africa, girls don’t often even own underwear – a necessary component for pads to work. So Sierra transformed her initial concept into a high-performance panty that combines comfort, fast indoor drying time, and 100% leak protection.
In addition, Sierra chose to work closely with Arican girls when designing the project to gather their feedback on what they wanted; not surprisingly, they told her they wanted something colorful, girly, and beautiful. Such was a powerful reminder that no matter someone’s income level, all people want beautiful things.
“It is our job as designers to serve this population with the same attention to aesthetics as we do with any other user segment.”
The final product is called the Be Girl PantyPad, and is hitting the commercial market in Kenya through local female distribution networks starting today – Menstrual Hygiene Day – at an accessibly low cost.
“It’s a crazy passion for me,” told Sierra to The Good News Network at a breakfast meting in DC last month.
“The fact that a blood stain is standing between millions of girls and their chance to obtain an education is absurd.” Sierra said. “Every girl deserves the chance to fulfill her greatest potential.”
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