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Innovative Smart Bag Redefines Menstruation Management for Refugee Girls in Uganda

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In Uganda, managing menstruation is a big challenge for so many adolescent girls and women. The inability to properly manage their periods means they often choose to drop out of school and stay home several days a month, according to a study on menstrual health management in Uganda by the International Rescue Committee.

Smart Girls Foundation is a girl-centered nonprofit development organization in Uganda that works to empower and mentor girls in health and education through their Smart Bags for Girls initiative. The Smart Bag, a backpack designed with the user in mind, consists of a backpack, reusable sanitary napkins, a menstrual tampon sewing kit and a management information booklet menstrual health. With a grant of $ 50,000 in 2018 from the UNFPA Innovation Fund, the Smart Girls Foundation designed, produced and distributed more than 5,000 smart bags in central and eastern Uganda in 2019.

During distribution, the team ensures that existing community structures and leaders are involved in the process in schools by working with local councils, the Prime Minister’s office and partners in the field. Parents, teachers and guardians are also involved to learn how to sew sanitary napkins and understand how to support girls through hygienic menstrual health management.

“It’s so exciting to see how the bags help them keep going to school and feel safe and unhindered by their period,” said Jamila Mayanja, founder of the Smart Girls Foundation.

With feedback and guidance from UNFPA, the Smart Girls Foundation has launched a new and improved Smart Bag that is now made from recycled plastic and has a solar kit installed on the bag. The stylish bag helps young girls in rural areas access light at night so they can read their textbooks and study.

The foundation partnered with Reform Africa, a local start-up organization to produce the new and improved bag. The revised version uses Reform Africa’s recycled plastic waterproof material for the exterior while retaining the concept of the Smart Girls Foundation to provide menstrual kits in school backpacks for girls.

Reform Africa is an organization that aims to reduce plastic waste in landfills by creating durable, waterproof plastic that is turned into stylish bags for adult and modern users.

“Previously, we used local kitenge fabric for the bags, but sometimes the girls struggled with the rainy weather or when their towels were dirty. So partnering with Reform Africa was naturally a great idea, ”said Mayanja.

“Reform Africa used to make bags for adult consumers, but we were looking for ways to help communities make a bigger impact,” said Faith Aweko, founder of Reform Africa. “Introducing Smart Girls has helped us reach a larger market and help girls who really need it with our products and designs.”

UNFPA supported the partnership of the Smart Girls Foundation and Reform Africa to produce and distribute 1,500 bags of the new Smart Bag in 2020 throughout Kyaka II settlement and Kampala. Refugees and girls from host communities received the bags.

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