Solving Period Poverty — India
Why we can send people to space but can’t develop a cheap pad for women to use.
Sanitary pads remain a ‘luxury item’ for 800M+ women in India. This not only means that they don’t have access to proper sanitation and menstrual products but that they need to use alternatives such as old cloth, rags, hay, sand or ash.
This is extremely uncomfortable, causes painful infections, prevents women from working to support their families, going to school to get educated and way more. This is simply a horrible thing to have to deal with.
When I first heard about this problem, it seemed so stupid. I wanted to figure out why we can send people to space but can’t develop a cheap pad for women to use.
What I realized is that we can. There just aren’t enough people working on it.
In 2018, the 12% tax on sanitary pads in India was removed. Most people would believe this is what's causing the insanely high prices. However, sanitary pads remain a ‘luxury item’.
So what’s the problem with current reusable pads? Affordability right? Yes and no.
In a span of 5 years, a woman would have spent about 4200 Rs on disposable menstrual products. Most pads cost 7–12 Rs upfront each, while women can only pay 2–4 Rs upfront.
So it’s not that the reusable pads are too expensive. It’s that they can’t afford them upfront. Unless we can make the pads under 2–4 Rs, it’s a business model and distribution problem, not a product or inherent cost problem.
The solution is simple. As I said, we just need more people working on it.
There are two parts to this solution:
- Reducing Product Cost
- Reducing Upfront Cost
Reducing Product Cost
While the biggest part of this problem is business model and distribution, the overall product cost matters too.
There are 3 core aspects to reusable pads. First, you have the top layer which is coming into contact with the skin. This needs to be comfortable and sanitary. Then you have the core layer which is the layer that needs to be absorbent. Finally, you have a backing that needs to reduce friction and help keep the pad in place.
I did a material cost comparison for the most common materials used when making pads and here we’re the results.
The two best materials are cotton for the topper/core and wool for the backing. They are the most absorptive for their price and are actually better in price and absorption compared to some of the other materials.
By selling boxes of 5 pads using this material the total cost would be around 200Rs. That includes approximate shipping and labour costs.
Once we have spent the least amount of money possible to create the best quality pad we need to implement a new payment model.
Reducing Upfront Cost
This is the core part of the solution. At the end of the day, this is more of a business model and distribution problem.
The solution is to use incremental payments.
Customers will be charged on a monthly basis through mobile payment apps, mainly done via text. Around 7 in 10 adults in India own mobile phones which makes this something easily implementable. On top of that, mobile money is booming in India so it’ll be familiar to users.
Spending one week on her period, a girl will in India has to spend about 70 Rs on disposable pads. The ideal pricing per month for this solution would be 15Rs for no more than 20 months, but with the estimated price we could achieve 10Rs for 20 months.
A company named MyAgro implemented the same business model in Africa. The problem was that smallholder farmers in Africa didn’t have the consistent cash flow to purchase seeds/fertilizer/equipment upfront.
What MyAgro did was allowed farmers to pay for items in increments by purchasing scratch cards. The number on the scratch card, when SMS’ed, makes a deposit on their MyAgro account. They were able to reach 90,000 customers reached in Mali, Senegal and Tanzania.
This was particularly important/useful for women who grow a big share of food on smallholdings but are often excluded from decision-making. The mobile layaway payments provide them with privacy and flexibility.
The situation in India is similar where the women don’t have much control over the money so implementing this model will be incredibly impactful and useful when tackling cultural barriers.
Current Assumptions + Risks
- Many Indian women already have a method of choice to deal with periods (reusable cloths or local methods such as using fine sand) and might not be open to a better one.
- Some women might not have open access to family funds to even take a few rupees without explanation. Even if purchased women might not get the full freedom they need to comfortably use our solution.
- For the payment model we have in place, a cellular device is necessary. Although Indian internet penetration is slowly increasing, it is often shared, making it hard for women to use a device.
My goal for the next few months is to find a way to manufacture and distribute these pads to people in period poverty.
- Sanitary pads remain a ‘luxury item’ for 800M+ women in India.
- Reusable pads are relatively inexpensive however the upfront cost is too high for women to pay
- We need to reduce the product cost while still maintaining quality by using cotton and wool.
- Then we need to implement an incremental payment model of approximately 10Rs over 20 months using mobile money.
- MyAgro used the same business model and reached 90,000 customers. Their company was also incredibly useful for women specifically because they didn’t have much control over money prior to this.
- The next step is to find the best way to manufacture and distribute these products to women and girls facing period poverty.
If this project is interesting to you and there is any way you may be able to help (connections, meetings, warm intros or forwarding this article to more people) I would really appreciate it.
Feel free to email me anytime if you have any questions — firstname.lastname@example.org
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