– BY MONICAH MUHOYA –
Managing your menstruation can be quite a challenge when you’re living in Kenya, where wages are low and menstrual products are expensive. The Heels4Pads foundation has come up with a creative solution: trading shoes for sanitary pads. The foundation calls for high heels donations from the public. These new or gently used shoes are then traded for menstrual products in pop up or flea markets. The pads are donated to Kenyan schools, community groups and rescue shelters, where they reach the most underprivileged girls and women.
65% of women and girls in Kenya can’t afford pads
Heels4Pads was founded when the female-centered events organisation SisterSpeaks Global learned of the shocking fact that 65% of women and girls in Kenya can’t afford pads. Instead, they improvise with alternatives such as rags, blankets, mattress pieces, tissue paper, and cotton wool. Since the start of the initiative in 2019, the organisation has reached 19,203 girls and women. Meanwhile, they’ve also exchanged 1,800 heels and fundraised $64,150, money which is very much needed since in May 2022 the Kenyan government reduced the Ministry of Education’s free sanitary pad budget for schoolgirls from KES 470 million to 260 million.
High heels: symbol of confidence
Why choose high heels as a bartering and fundraising tool? This has to do with circling back confidence and restoring dignity. The heels exchange campaign targets young women at the onset of their careers who can’t afford new high heels to help them look the part at work, for example when attending an interview or starting an internship. The women buying the high heels can either exchange them directly with sanitary pads or buy them with the equivalent amount required. Gently used heels are exchanged for a minimum of 12 packets of sanitary pads (or the equivalent to KES 800 (8 USD) whereas new high heels are traded for 18 packets of sanitary pads or the equivalent of KES 1,000 (10 USD). The high heel buyers get to walk a mile in the shoes of the successful women who previously owned them.
Pad dispensers monitor attendance in schools
Working towards menstrual equity, the Heels4Pads foundation has also started the ‘Adopt A Dispenser’ program: pad dispensers are installed in schools so girls can access the menstrual products easily and hassle-free at any time. The back-end reporting module on the dispenser monitors the impact on girls’ school attendance and performance and the overall impact on girls’ education. Other tools of the Heels4Pads foundation are podcasts, digital campaigns and social experiments aimed at destigmatising the subject and changing the general public’s perception on periods.
A brighter future for girls in Kenya
Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity. Not having access to facilities, information, safe and effective means and products of managing their menstrual hygiene, deprives girls and women of their dignity. Heels4Pads aims to create a brighter future for girls and young women in Kenya with their initiatives. In their inclusion and diversity project, they especially target women and girls with disabilities, for example with a reusable pad tailoring and assembling program aimed at equipping autistic and other disabled girls with knowhow and readiness of transitioning to entrepreneurship once they’re done with school. The organisation hopes to have reached 50,000 participants and installed 20 pad dispensers in schools by the end of 2024.
About the author:
Social entrepreneur Monicah Muhoya (Kenya) is the founder of SisterSpeaks Global and the Heels4Pads Foundation. It’s her mission to create opportunities and spaces in digital entrepreneurship for women. Aspiring to become a force of social entrepreneurship in Kenya and Africa, Muhoya is deeply committed to ending period poverty. Follow her on Twitter.
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