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The SmartBag redefines menstruation management among refugee girls

In Uganda, menstruation management remains a daunting challenge in the life of many adolescent girls and women. This means they often choose to forego school and stay home to manage their menstruation for several days out of each month (according to a Study on Menstrual Management in Uganda by the International Rescue Committee).

Smart Girls Foundation is a non-profit, girl-centered development organization in Uganda that is endeavoring to empower and mentor girls in health and education through their Smart Bags for Girls initiative. The Smart Bag is a backpack designed with the user in mind and consists of a backpack, reusable sanitary towels, a menstrual pad sewing kit, and a menstrual health management information booklet. With a USD 50,000 grant in 2018 from the UNFPA Innovation Fund, Smart Girls Foundation designed, produced and distributed more than 5,000 Smart Bags in Central and Eastern Uganda in 2019.

 

During the distribution of the bags, the team ensures that existing community structures and leaders are involved in the process at schools by working with Local Councils (LCs), Office of the Prime Minister and partners on the ground. Parents, teachers, and guardians are also involved in learning how to sew menstrual pads and understanding how to support the girls through hygienic menstrual health management. 

 

“It is so exciting to really help the girls and see how much the bags help them to continue going to school and feel safe and not embarrassed by their menstruation,” said Jamila Mayanja, Smart Girls Foundation Founder.


The new Smart Bag comes with recycled and waterproof plastic material and optionally a
solar lamp. Photo: Smart Girls Foundation

 

With feedback and guidance from UNFPA, Smart Girls Foundation has now launched a new and improved Smart Bag that is now made out of recycled plastic material and has a solar kit installed onto the bag. The refined bag helps young girls in rural areas access light at night so that they are able to revise their books. 

 

For the improved Smart Bag, the foundation partnered with Reform Africa, a local startup organisation to produce the new and improved bag. The revised Smart Bag uses Reform Africa’s recycled plastic waterproof material for the exterior while maintaining Smart Girls Foundation’s concept for providing menstrual kits within school backpacks for girls.  

Reform Africa is an organisation aiming to reduce plastic waste in landfills by creating a durable and waterproof plastic material that is fashioned into stylish bags for adult and modern users. 

 “We were previously using local kitenge fabric for the bags, but sometimes the girls struggled with the rainy weather or when their pads were soiled. So the partnership with Reform Africa was naturally a great idea,” Mayanja said.

 “Reform Africa was previously making bags for adult consumers, but we were looking for ways to help impact communities in a greater way,” said Faith Aweko, Founder of Reform Africa. “The introduction to Smart Girls has helped us to reach a broader market and help girls who truly need it with our product and designs,” she continued.

 

UNFPA provided support for the Smart Girls Foundation and Reform Africa partnership to produce and distribute 1,500 bags of the new Smart Bag in 2020 throughout Kyaka II settlement and in Kampala. Both refugee and national girls in host communities received the bags. 

Written by Lisa Hartwig