Mutasa, Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe
|Education||St Joseph's High School|
|Organization||Chiedza Community Welfare Trust (CCWT)|
|Known for||Leading an initiative on the production of reusable sanitary pads for the less priviledged.|
Gladys Mukaratirwa is a Zimbabwean and founder of the Chiedza Community Welfare Trust which is in Zimbabwe's Mutasa District in Manicaland Province. In July 2022, she initiated a program where her organisation made reusable sanitary towels so that girls do not skip school when they have their monthly period.
Mukaratirwa, a witty, charismatic, and innovative woman from Mazimauya village, Mutasa, is the Director of the Chiedza Community Welfare Trust, the enterprise that owns the factory at Bonda Women's Centre. She is also the brains behind the success of the women’s centre. A former teacher and holder of multiple degrees in consumer sciences and nutrition, she has dedicated her life to developing skills that empower the girls and women in her village and ensure they are able to earn an income.
In the late 1990s, Mukaratirwa wanted to explore entrepreneurial ways for the women to make a living and brought together 65 women to built the Bonda Women’s Centre which started as a tiny building after recognizing that most women struggled to put food on the table despite having husbands working in town. At that time, the women made bread, selling it at shopping hubs for rural communities known locally as “growth points”. All too often, the women would come back to the centre penniless, after giving the bread to their hungry children.
So the centre decided to employ the design skills that most of the women had learned from childhood when creating designs for their traditional huts, to craft batiks (wax-print textiles) and sell those. The women would travel as far as Harare and Victoria Falls and set up kiosks to sell their batiks at tourist markets. As demand grew, the team qualified to be partially funded with building materials, by the Zimbabwe European Union Micro Projects, an economic recovery partnership between Zimbabwe and the European Union, under its rural infrastructure development pillar.
The women then built their first factory, hoping to scale up their batik production. They managed to complete the small factory and increase sales but political and economic crises then began to reduce the number of visiting tourists, impacting their sales. Despite the ups and downs, Mukaratirwa had a bigger vision for this group and kept urging the women on.
Reusable Sanitary Towels
The Chiedza Community Welfare Trust, in Zimbabwe's Mutasa District, started sewing cloth sanitary pads when founder Gladys Mukaratirwa realised that local girls were missing school every month because they could not afford disposable hygiene products. "If you calculate two to five days per month, it's about 45 days per year of school time which is wasted, so we realised that there was a need for them to have a sustainable source of sanitary pads," Mukaratirwa said.
This idea came up some time back though it took time to take off as there were more processes to be done before getting the nod to start producing the pads. It was after they realised that most of the girls they were supporting through school fees payment would skip school during their period and this impacted on their studies. The women at the Bonda factory tried to address this issue and bought disposable pads for the girls. But with over one hundred girls to cater to, buying these pads was not sustainable. What they needed were cheaper and long-lasting sanitary pads.
“It struck my mind that older women in the villages were using clothes and washing them for reuse,” Mukaratirwa recalled.
“So I suggested to the women that we make cloth pads for the girls. Using the textile knowledge l gained from my Family and Consumer Sciences degree to weigh options of suitable fabrics, I told the women we needed a highly absorbent fabric that was soft to the skin, had a safe fiber morphology without substances like zinc and carcinogenic. The material also had to be non-smelly when exposed to blood and easy to wash. That is how we chose fleece material.”
The women started making cloth pads for the orphans, and as a result, the girls’ participation in school improved. The women also started raising awareness about menstruation in schools and community gatherings to discourage period shaming and highlight the impacts of period poverty on the girls and the community. Soon, the women realized that their young girls were just a fraction of the many who faced period poverty. At that moment, the journey towards building a reputable social enterprise that designs and manufactures cheaper and reusable sanitary pads began.
The Chiedza Community Welfare Trust (CCWT) was born soon after. In 2013 Mukaratirwa registered CCWT as a private voluntary organization that manufactures reusable pads. The women then prepared to conduct rigorous research to design a product, the Chiedza pad, that would be approved by local regulatory boards for the market.
When Mukaratirwa approached the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ), she discovered there were no standards governing local manufacturers and quality control of sanitary materials in Zimbabwe. Indeed, according to a 2020 UNICEF report on The Zimbabwe Formative Research on Menstrual Hygiene Management, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, which is responsible for monitoring medicines, medical equipment, and other related materials, did not have a sanitary wear standard or a system to monitor the quality of sanitary wear on the market.
By 2017 they had a product that conforms with the requirements and so they upscaled the production of Chiedza pads pending legal announcement of a standard. Today CCWT is one of a handful of local sanitary pad manufacturers that is licensed by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe. The high standards of the Chiedza pads have earned the enterprise a huge market because non-governmental organizations running menstrual management projects regularly purchase pads from the factory.
The production capacity per month is 50 000 pads and sometimes more. Each pack is sold for the equivalent of US$3.80 and contains two night and three-day pads that can be used for up to 18 months. Each pad can be worn for up to six hours. In comparison, the cost to manage menstruation for 18 months in Zimbabwe using disposable pads is between US$18.00 and US$72.00, depending on the brand purchased.