When COVID-19 spread across the globe, it had more than one devastating impact. The pandemic and its subsequent worldwide lockdowns and school closures, along with widespread inflation and soaring living costs, have exacerbated period poverty – the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products – and the ripple effect of period shame for people who menstruate, creating challenges such as product shortages, price hikes and heightened stigma right across the globe
Despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, we focused on collaborating with Plan International and their partners to successfully roll out a significant menstrual health management program in rural Laos.
The program saw us donate 22,000 pairs of Modibodi leak-proof underwear to 4,450 girls and women in two Laos provinces. Our aim? To improve access to longer-term sustainable menstrual health products and education. Our reusable underwear is a safe, comfortable and hygienic way to manage periods, without needing to resort to disposable pads. Through Plan International's program, students took part in menstrual health training delivered by local partner Laos Solidarity, covering basic knowledge of menstruation, the advantages and disadvantages of disposable sanitation pads, how to manage menstruation, how to track period cycles, how to ease period cramps, and how to care for Modibodi pants.
“After the team explained what the Modibodi pants are and how to use them, the students at our target secondary schools were interested to touch and try them,” said Manivanh Phetsalath, Plan’s Adolescent Project Manager.
“Also, distribution events like we did for the Modibodi packs are a great way to get the conversation started to normalise periods. Some women and girls have misconceptions about menstruation and reproductive health – an important part of our work is to break these taboos.”
Like in many parts of the world, stigma surrounding menstruation has had a negative impact on women and girls in Laos. The lack of comprehensive menstrual health education exacerbates these issues, especially amongst younger generations.
According to a recent survey conducted by Plan International in Laos, 78% of girls interviewed avoid changing their menstrual pads at school due to associations of bullying and shame. In the last six months, nearly a third of the girls had missed at least one day of school due to being on their period.
After going through this training and received a pack of Modibodi period undies, 80% of participants said that they felt more confident managing their periods than before the program and 95% of participants said that they are all more comfortable discussing menstruation with their families and friends at school. Plus, all participants saw the financial benefits to using reusables, with 85% reporting that they had stopped spending money on menstrual products entirely.
We believe that everyone, regardless of where they are in the world, should be able to experience their period with dignity. The few organisations that do donate period supplies, often do so in the form of plastic disposables such as single-use tampons and pads.
In many circumstances, disposables are considered the culturally appropriate option, especially in disaster situations or where washing facilities are limited. However, when we can achieve period equity through sustainable alternatives, it’s a win-win scenario.
In countries like Laos, where waste management is largely limited to urban centres, single-use plastic poses a significant environmental risk. In fact, a lot of waste is often burned or dumped into waterways.
Annually, 4 million tonnes of plastic waste is discharged into the world’s seas via rivers.
In Laos, millions of people live by and depend on the Mekong River. It is also known as being one of the dirtiest rivers in the world. Approximately 24% of waste in Laos is categorized as single use plastic – which includes disposable tampons and pads.1
“After receiving the Modibodi packs, female students are less nervous and able to focus on studying while they are menstruating. Less use of sanitary pads has also reduced garbage in school,” explained Mr. Khamxay Sayalath, Vice Principal of Donmeuang secondary school.
At Modibodi, we believe improving period equity is best when done sustainably. Disposables are a short-term solution that can create a long-term problem.
Finding sustainable solutions for today’s problems is essential when considering the threat of climate change. Under consultation with the World Bank and United Nations, Laos adopted the National Green Growth Strategy in 2019, which prioritised lifting people out of poverty and equitable income sharing whilst preserving the integrity of its natural environment.
In this spirit of sustainable development, our donation of 22,000 pants has improved access and knowledge of menstrual health products and education in remote Laos – while reducing tonnes of plastic into the environment.