Fly and Flo are two revolutionary products that fight period poverty and help menstruators across the globe manage their monthly periods. The burden of a person’s menstrual cycle can vary dramatically depending on their location. Many experience what is known as period poverty, which is when people do not have the resources or social conditions “to manage their periods with dignity.” Period poverty is normally widespread in specific regions or countries due to a lack of access to sanitary products and intense stigmas surrounding menstruation.
Roughly 12.8 percent of the menstruating population lives in poverty. These extreme financial challenges leave many unable to afford conventional sanitary products, causing them to turn to less safe alternatives such as newspapers, plastics bags, and socks to manage their monthly periods.
In addition to the health concerns, period poverty also results in people being discriminated against and ostracized during their menstrual cycle. In countries like Venezuela, for example, members of the household require menstruators to sleep in huts during their periods. This is not an uncommon practice around the world.
Period poverty does not only affect people during menstruation; it can have long-term negative effects. It causes severe implications for an individual’s education and career. In Kenya, for example, people miss 20 percent of the school year due to menstruation. Luckily, Fly and Flo are working to fight period poverty around the world.
In India, 70 percent of reproductive diseases are a result of unhygienic menstrual care. Understanding this and the high cost of sanitary products in India, Arunachalam Muruganantham set out on a mission to create a cheap sanitary pad in hopes of making India a “100 percent napkin using country” compared to a level of less than 10 percent at the time.
After four and a half years of research, Muruganantham created a low-cost, four-step method to make sanitary pads. Muruganantham then brought that method and machinery to over 1,300 villages in India so that women can produce and sell cheap sanitary napkins to their community. The success of the product is documented in the 2019 Netflix documentary Period. End of Sentence., which tells the story of women in Kathikhera, India, who use Muruganantham’s method to make pads for their village.
In addition to bringing cheap pads to Khathikhera, this innovation has empowered the women of the village to create their own brand of sanitary napkins known as “Fly.” The company creates over 600 pads every day, bringing stable jobs to women in the village. The product is also slowly accomplishing Muruganantham’s original goal, as sanitary napkin usage in Khathikhera has climbed to 70 percent.
The success of Fly has inspired Muruganantham to spread his product to countries affected by period poverty across the globe, such as Kenya, Nigeria, and the Philippines.
While affordable sanitary napkins are becoming increasingly more available, 90 percent of the menstruating population still use reusable pads. People can use reusable pads safely; however, due to stigmas, many people struggle to properly disinfect their pads during menstruation, a lack of hygiene which can lead to infection. To combat this issue, a group of students at the Art Center College of Design created Flo: a kit that allows people to wash, dry thoroughly and store sanitary napkins during menstruation.
The device is made up of “two bowls, a basket, and string, and uses half the water and detergent than a standard hand washing method requires.” After washing the pads, they can be spun inside the basket to wring out excess water and reduce the drying time. Flo then converts into a drying rack for the pads to hang outside. In addition to being a transportable washer-dryer, Flo also serves as discrete storage for dirty and clean pads.
The tool kit costs $3, making it an accessible, long term solution for those who struggle with period poverty. The inexpensive and hidden nature of Flo helps to reduce some of the burdens for those affected by menstrual stigmas by providing a sense of privacy and ensuring sanitation during monthly periods. The creators of Flo are still finalizing the marketing and sale strategies for the product, however, the future for Flo looks bright as it has already won several awards including an International Design Excellence Award. As the product continues to work on getting itself off the ground, its creators encourage people to build their own Flo models using any available resources and the product design of the group’s website.
The Future of Period Poverty
As the world works to fight period poverty, innovations like Fly and Flo bring hope to menstruating people across the globe. With these products, menstruation no longer inhibits people from attending school or jobs out of fear of embarrassment or inconvenience. Moreover, as these products become cheaper, access to adequate period care will someday hopefully be universal.
– Mary Kate Langan