Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019: It’s Time for Action

By Sabrina Hoque On 29.05.2019 Policy & practice

One Vision Creating Countless Hope

Entrepreneur Lily Akhter

From a destitute victim of river erosion to a successful entrepreneur, it’s not been an easy path for Lily Akhter (58). After losing everything from river deterioration in 2003, Lily and her husband with their 6 children started their new life in Baitul Aman slum, Faridpur municipality. Her husband’s earnings were not sufficient enough to feed 8 people a day which persuaded her to earn for her family.

Lily got the idea of the sanitary napkin business from the Delivering Decentralisation project, implemented by Practical Action Bangladesh in association with Faridpur Municipality and local NGOs. This project worked towards institutionalising the participation of slum dwellers in municipal planning and budgeting the uptake of infrastructure technologies with the systems that are appropriate, affordable and maintainable for the long term. Here she received skills training on production, quality assurance and market promotion of sanitary napkins. With very few materials and machinery to start with (swing machine, plastic packaging), she produced her first sanitary napkins, which she sold only to her nearby community. She encouraged the neighbouring women of her community to learn this new earning skill and to get involved with her business. Seeing this innovative business in 2012, the 2nd Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP) of Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED), extended cooperation to provide advanced skill training and financial support to expand her business on low cost sanitary napkins ‘APARAJITA’.

This product is helping numbers of adolescent girls and adult women to have the appropriate sanitary materials for safe and hygienic management of menstruation. This practice of using sanitary napkins amongst the adolescent girl and women progressively reduces the malpractices around menstruation and saves them from severe health crises. She sells her products to neighbouring communities at cheap prices and at the market rate to adjacent hospitals, private clinics and medicine pharmacies. To meet the necessary expenses and remuneration of assistant women workers, she got BDT 10,000 in her hand every month and financial restoration of her family who now have a strong stand. Along with her own financial well-being, she’s created job opportunities for 16 poor unemployed women in her neighbourhood. The popularity of APARAJITA napkins are increasing because of good feedback from the customers.

Globally, more than half of adolescent girls and women are currently of menstrual age all around the world. Many of them haven’t got access to menstrual hygiene products either, due to limited availability or excessive cost. Recently on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, Lily received an award (3rd prize) and a certificate signed by the Minister from Ministry of Local Government Rural Development and Cooperatives, the Chief Engineer of LGED and from LGED’s urban sector development programmes for her outstanding contribution in self-reliant entrepreneurship. This award has profoundly inspired her to widen her business at a larger scale outside of Faridpur and to help numerous girls and women to have a safe menstruation and diminish the social taboos and stigmas around menstrual hygiene management. She has been selected for a visit to Mysore, India to learn from the My Radha programme which is a flagship initiative of the Indian Government for women in economic empowerment.

Currently Bangladesh’s Government are preparing a National Strategy for Menstrual Hygiene Management and the impact will only be observed when it is operations are set in stone.  To get this radical action of our Government operational, we need to stand by hundreds of Lily Akhter to make their vision actionable.