The difference that reusable pads have made to the life of Isabel and her eight daughters

Isabel, a mother from Papua New Guinea is smiling at the camera in front of lush green plants

With a big family and a small income an enterprising mother in Papua New Guinea has found a way to supply her eight daughters with the sanitary napkins she could not afford to buy.


Isabel, her husband and 10 children – including eight teenage girls – live in Daru, Western Province in Papua New Guinea. They sell crops from their farms to support the family and while the income is just enough to put food on the table and buy other essentials – it does not stretch to supplying a household full of girls with sanitary products.


“The pads at the shops are very expensive and I would advise my girls to use pieces of cloth.” But the cloth solution proved unsatisfactory. “Sometimes I would force my daughters to go to school, but they would cry and say they couldn’t go because they were in their periods,” she said.

“They were scared of being laughed at by fellow students if they stained their clothes. Listening to them, I would get so emotional and breakdown.”


She watched as other women’s daughters moved around happily and attended classes every day because they could afford modern pads sold in the shops. As her daughters’ school performances slipped, Isabel’s fears for their futures grew.


Then, Isabel received an invitation to a workshop on sewing reusable pads, organised by Water for Women partner, World Vision. These workshops are part of World Vision's WASH project in Western Province, WASH voices for empowerment (WAVE), supported by the Australian Government.


The practical training made all the difference for women, like Isabel, who had previously always resorted to pieces of cloth and could not afford products that assist in managing periods properly. Not only could the women now sew their own reusable pads for their families, but they also had also learnt a new income generating skill! The reusable pads cost little to make and have the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly.


“I greatly appreciate World Vision for this transformative economic empowerment program,” said Isabel. “As a mother, it was a struggle through the years, and I thank God for making this training possible. What I have learnt will elevate change and reduce poverty in my family. I will use these skills to sew pads for my girls and sell for money.”


The reusable pads have made a big difference to the lives of Isabel and her family. Her eight teenage daughters no longer miss school, and Isabel has found a new purpose as a menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) community activist promoting reusable pads. She talks about MHH in community meetings, in churches and schools, and engages government authorities. And, she has been appointed secretary for a local women’s council.


Her vision, today, is “women empowering women for a better future”.


Achieving menstrual health and hygiene requires access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and services, appropriate sanitary products, and information about self-care and the menstrual cycle. And yet despite increasing water and sanitation coverage, many still cannot access basic WASH services.


The time is over for peripheral programming on MHH in WASH. It is now pivotal, particularly given the context of COVID-19 restrictions, which have exacerbated period poverty and decreased availability and access to hygienic facilities, sanitary products and information to support stigma-free safe and dignified menstruation. The WASH sector has a central role to play in supporting the safe and dignified menstruation management to positively impact the life course of women of all ages and girls worldwide. 


Learn more about how Water for Women partners are making menstrual health and hygiene pivotal in their WASH projects.


Photo: Isabel (World Vision Papua New Guinea / Nancy Wobo



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