It is not every day that you walk into a business office and see drawings of sexual organs on the wall. At least, not intentionally. In a society where sexually explicit images litter billboards and television screens, there is still a discomfort in talking about our bodies. How does this work? You do what with that? Reproductive health education is a no-no, but sexually explicit music videos are a yes-yes. So how do we move forward? Innovations in Healthcare (IiH) innovator, ZanaAfrica Kenya, answers this question by flipping the reproductive health narrative on its head.
This month, IiH staff had the pleasure of visiting ZanaAfrica, a for profit organization that juggles menstrual product sales with creative health education for East African women. While there, Angela Lagat, Chief Brand Marketing Officer, walked our team through the challenges that come with the reproductive health space and normalizing menstruation.
According to ZanaAfrica, four out of every five East African girls do not have consistent access to sanitary pads. Without these products, girls rely on unhygienic and even painful materials that they can gather to control their menstruation. Rags, stuffing from mattresses, you name it. These makeshift alternatives cause urinary and reproductive tract infections, which left untreated, lead to higher risk of contracting HIV and STIs. For girls that forgo these methods, staying at home and missing school is the alternative; a consequence that can lead to up to six weeks of missed education each year and an invaluable loss of confidence.
ZanaAfrica mitigates this stifling narrative by producing and selling low-cost, high-quality sanitary pads that are made for the African female. At first glance, it is hard to miss their marketing that targets the local audience: a bold silhouette of a woman with a traditional head wrap, boasting vibrant purple and yellow. Words like “beautiful”, “powerful”, and “confident” pattern the packaging of Nia, ZanaAfrica’s sanitary pad product, showing that these pads are more than just a product; they symbolize a movement.
Lagat and her team are accelerating East African women’s empowerment by coupling their product distribution with magazines and comics that model healthy decision-making and discussions. Through short health quizzes and stories about females finding agency through education, these tools are normalizing the conversation around reproductive health and showing that menstruation is not shameful, but something to be celebrated. Through these channels, ZanaAfrica is bringing reproductive health to the forefront and giving females the information they need to manage their health and the confidence to step into their potential.
Reproductive health is not glamorous. Menstruation is not comfortable. But these topics are critical to moving the needle on women’s rights and empowerment. Now, more than ever, organizations like ZanaAfrica need your support. The movement to recognizing menstrual health management as a human right is here. It is time to take periods seriously. Period.
To get involved with ZanaAfrica’s movement, through financial support or other means, please contact Angela Lagat at email@example.com and Alison Nakamura-Netter at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about other innovators in the Innovations in Healthcare network, click here.