In a workshop located in a suburb of Yaounde, a group of seamstresses produce washable and reusable cloth menstrual pads with cotton sourced locally. These pads will then be distributed in supermarkets, pharmacies and donated in rural communities across Cameroon. Olivia Mvondo Boum is the founder of KmerPad, a cooperative whose mission is to improve the living conditions and hygiene of thousands of young African women through menstrual hygiene accessories and menstrual health workshops.
In several parts of the world, women face many social, economic and cultural challenges when they have their periods – a natural phenomenon and yet taboo in today’s society. In Cameroon, as in many developing countries, young women from disadvantaged backgrounds have little to no access to sanitary products (menstrual pads, tampons, cups) because of their expensive cost. Most of them are forced to use alternative solutions such as banana leaves, pieces of cloth or paper that can be detrimental to their health. As a result, some girls have no choice but to miss classes for several days during their menstruation.
According to UNESCO, one in ten school-age African girls do not attend school during menstruation. A poor menstrual hygiene can therefore hinder young women’s education and eventually create negative consequences on her life. To address this issue, Olivia Mvondo Boum and her team designed a more affordable alternative for disadvantaged young women: washable and reusable sanitary pads that can last up to two years.
The project was born while Olivia was living in Uganda with her husband who is a human rights worker. Having lived a major part of her life in Europe, she discovered, in this new environment, the various economic and social problems that are facing the most disadvantaged groups of the population, especially young women. She realized that she too, can make a positive contribution.
After conducting several studies on the subject, Olivia and her co-founders decided to manufacture washable and reusable menstrual pads in order to address a major issue faced by many disadvantaged young women in Cameroon: the lack of a good menstrual hygiene. The first product of KmerPad was born under the brand name FAM: a kit made of of three washable and reusable sanitary pads, accessories, and a user guide.
KmerPad works both to support young women’s menstrual hygiene and the empowerment of women by guaranteeing stable employment to seamstresses. By providing them with jobs, they can become autonomous and support their families. The manufacturing of these reusable menstrual pads not only meets a societal problem but also helps support the local economy and empowers women while preserving the environment.
“To enable girls to have access to these accessories, we must also educate them about menstrual health.” Olivia Mvondo Boum
Olivia and her team travel across Cameroon to run awareness campaigns and training workshops on menstrual hygiene especially among girls and adults from rural communities. The lack of information and the existing myths about menstruation makes it difficult for many people to really understand women’s health and menstrual hygiene. It is crucial for her to support the commercialization of menstrual hygiene products with educative workshops in High Schools and Colleges of the targeted communities.
Thanks to the many efforts of Olivia and her team, KmerPad received numerous recognitions worldwide. In 2015, the organization was awarded the SIGEF Price (Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum) in Switzerland for the best initiative, she also won the 2015 Madiba “Vivre Ensembre” award and is a winner of the Initiative “La France s’engage au sud “launched by French President Francois Hollande, which aims to support and encourage social innovation in developing countries.