A prison in Uganda has further improved the customization of sanitary towels. Mawosi – Make women smile – is the face behind it and with the earnings helps the women who are serving their time, with their children in prison. A story on a sensitive subject that shapes self-esteem more than is sometimes thought.
Text and image: Martha Nalukenge
Menstruating is not something women choose, nature has defined it that way, although for some it offers a job opportunity by manufacturing sanitary towels. COVID-19 hit the market and drove up prices in Uganda. The market has been overrun with fake sanitary pads and that affects most girls who fall victim to it.
There are countless sanitary towels, reusable and non-reusable. It’s frustrating paying so much for them, which is why most girls and women opt for reusable ones, with four pieces they can go a year ahead. Prices vary by brand – and the makers of Sis bandages reveal their route, a story of how the bandage came about.
Namirembe Shadia supplies reusable sanitary pads to women in prison, through a project called Mawosi: from Make women smile. It started making a difference in the lives of girls and women and putting a smile on their faces. “The idea is to let them direct their own health and social and financial lives through our activities,” says Shadia. “That is our mission: to increase their self-confidence, to enable them to live a life of dignity.”
Mawosi works in the community with vulnerable women, girls and children – widows, disabled and orphans – and in prison they are the same ages; many mothers give birth in there and their children stay in their cells until they are two, then they go to their caregivers in the community. The imprisoned women helped Shadia improve the quality of the pads.
The previous reusable pads were mediocre and most customers couldn’t put their finger on them, but she was blessed with the sincere supporters in prison who provided her feedback. Sis went through two stages until the third could count on consumer approval. It was a difficult road, she initially lacked the material to meet the standard, but she was helped by a good Samaritan, who taught her the art.
The material is purchased in Nairobi. She was lucky enough to come into contact with traders who help her with the delivery, so she doesn’t often run out. The feedback from prison helped her connect better, changing the definitive brand from Sister to Sis, which is driving sales in the community.
Mawosi provides a lot of employment for young people who make, brand, package and sell the sanitary pads; they usually do this in rural areas, where women purchase Sis-bandages in large numbers, but even the urban ladies find it comfortable. The profits go to a poultry project, which in turn supports the children – from zero to two – of the incarcerated women. Shadia gives them an insight into life outside the prison wall.
Menstruating is a mysterious thing and if people around you know about it without your permission, your self-esteem immediately drops. Good sanitary towels should not be underestimated, they know in the women’s wing as well.