NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
IN POOR communities of Zambia, especially in rural areas, many young girls miss school each month while menstruating because they can’t afford to buy menstrual products.Advocates of menstrual health for girls, especially in poor African communities, propose that menstrual pads should be provided free of charge to girls because menstruation is a natural process which happens monthly for a woman’s entire reproductive lifetime.
In October 2016, when the government unveiled its 2017 budget, it was announced that the distribution of free sanitary towels to girls in rural and peri-rural areas to increase and retain attendance of girls in schools, would begin.
Despite the announcement however, the exercise is yet to start.
Kozo Girls is an emerging Zambian social enterprise which is providing livelihood opportunities for younger women to manufacture reusable menstrual pads.
The pads – ‘Kozo Pads’ – are available for purchase by individuals and groups who wish to support Zambian girls to stay in school, and also by women and girls for their own personal use.
Reusable pads are not only cost-effective but are friendlier on the environment as they reduce landfill waste.
Kozo Girls originated as a spinoff from the USAID-funded DREAMS programme, a PEPFAR initiative to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women aged between 10 and 24 years.
The aim of DREAMS is to help girls develop into Determined Resilient Empowered AIDS-Free Mentored and Safe women. DREAMS is part of the Zambia Community HIV Prevention Project; a five-year USAID co-operative agreement being implemented by Pact and sub-partners to reduce new HIV infections in Zambia. A projected number of 112,000 girls will be reached through the project in eight targeted districts by the end of September 2018.
The Kozo Girls project was introduced to give livelihood opportunities to DREAMS graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 , as the lack of economic opportunities is considered one of the factors which leads young women to engage in risky behaviour.
To date, Pact has trained 42 DREAMS graduates to become Kozo Girls in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. The Kozo Pads they make are being sold locally in their communities, as well as to groups wishing to purchase pads for gifting as part of adolescent girls’ empowerment programmes or water and sanitation improvement projects. As an emerging enterprise, Kozo Girls is actively looking for partnerships that will support the growth of their business.
“We are particularly interested to hear from private sectors or philanthropic groups who would like to order pads in bulk for distribution to economically deprived girls,” says Emily Bell, Project Associate at Pact in Lusaka.
Waaza Zulu, who is 22, has completed DREAMS and was one of the original cohort of Kozo Girls to be trained. Before that, she was at home taking care of her baby.
“I had no plans and it wasn’t easy to get back on my feet with the criticism around the community,” Waza says. “This project helped me out a lot because the commission I earn on pad sales is helping me to save money for the future.”
Projects like Kozo Girls provide the opportunity for partnerships with the government and NGOs to make the free distribution of pads to schoolgirls in poor communities a reality.
With the assistance of initiatives like Kozo Girls, younger girls can stay in school and not have to miss classes while menstruating and ultimately complete their education and contribute meaningfully to Zambian society.