When teenage girls in Ethiopia have their periods, they wash their blood-stained rags in water from wells without using soap and hide them under their bed to wear again the next day. In Bangladesh, menstrual rags washed for reuse are sometimes squeezed into roof thatches to dry so that no one notices them.
In parts of the world where families cannot afford disposable menstrual pads and the stigma around periods is deep, adolescent girls often use discreet, unsanitary ways to wash and dry pads crafted from rags. Moreover, lack of access to sanitary products and fear of menstrual leaks often compel girls to skip, or even drop out of, school.
Now a solution is in sight.
A group of students at Art Center College of Design in California have built a low-cost, easy-to-use tool, called Flo, to wash and dry reusable sanitary cloths.
Flo — the brainchild of students Mariko Higaki Iwai, Sohyun Kim, and Tatijana Vasily — is among the winning designs of this year’s International Design Excellence Award. The awards, organised by the Industrial Designers Society of America, picked 81 top winners from more than 1,700 projects.
Here’s how Flo works. First, the sanitary cloth goes inside a basket, which helps wring out and dry the soiled material.
The basket sits inside two bowls made from high-strength plastic, joined together with a nylon or cotton string. In addition to holding water and detergent, the bowls also cover the rags, so that girls don’t have to worry about being embarrassed.
Next, the user can hold the product using the strings and give it a spin.
The prototypes — eight in all — were tested using ketchup, soy sauce and animal blood. According to the designers, Flo uses half the water and detergent compared to manual washing.
The string and the basket can also be pulled out and used for hanging the wet cloth later. It is important to dry the cloth in the sun, since that helps kill bacteria. Often, girls in low-income countries hide the rags on the roof or under their bed to keep them from being seen. Instead, Flo designers advise tying a burlap cloth as a blinder around the basket to ensure privacy.
The kit also contains a zip-top pouch, which would allow girls to carry a reusable pad to school privately.
The toolkit will cost less than $US3.
The designers, who have also collaborated with students from Yale School of Management to roll out a business plan, are now working towards making Flo a reality for millions of girls across the world.