Menstrual Hygiene in Uganda | Product Design

  • T-Minus is an annual RIT Industrial Design department-wide week-long project and competition that involves grouping students from each year level to collaborate on a design problem. The 2019 project briefs have been inspired in partnership with the Ugandan Water Project. I was the sophomore on my team, with teammates Tina (a senior) and John (a junior). We were given Problem 2 - Menstrual Health:

    As girls face adolescence and the beginning of their menstrual cycle, many drop out of school because of inadequate facilities at the school for feminine hygiene. The low incomes of Ugandan families make it difficult to provide the disposable menstrual products commonly found in our communities. Ugandan girls face a monthly challenge to manage their cycle while avoiding the stigma surrounding a subject that isn't spoken of in mixed company.

    Schools are often equipped only with simple and inadequate pit latrines with no area for bathing or washing up. There is a significant need to design and implement simple, discreet facilities and tools for girls to be able to manage their personal hygiene needs without interrupting their scholastic endeavours and without subjecting them to stigma. The impact on the nation of Uganda would be tremendous as the number of girls completing secondary school (and going on to college) increases.

    - Consideration of Ugandan culture, values and economics
    - Designed to be made in Uganda with locally sourced materials and products
    - Emphasizes goal of female students staying enrolled
    - Considers motivations for embracing change

  • Our Process
    After our first team meeting, I did some brainstorming within the main design constraints. I decided to present this preliminary idea to them: a disposable cotton and papyrus pad that rolls up to fit in the pocket, secured with a waistband.

  • John's research found that papyrus products (like Ancient Egyptian sandals and mats) were stiff, and would not be comfortable. I also hadn't found a way for my concept to be easily operable in the context of a dark latrine, especially given the student's long skirt, so we all went back to the drawing board together:

  • We realized there was no single solution to Problem 2: we could take the product route, or develop a system to improve the context, so we split up: John tried finding a solution to improve natural lighting in the latrine with all weather conditions considered, while Tina and I continued to focus on fluid absorption.

  • We consulted representatives from the Ugandan Water Project and a soft goods professor to discuss the feasibility of the concepts and materials. We received positive feedback and helpful suggestions, so we all decided to invest our effort into this concept. We continued developing with the following design considerations:

    - Shape: how do we maximize both coverage and breathability, and prevent it from touching the ground while the user squats over the latrine?
    - Maintenance and usability: how do we minimize the maintenance needed for the product and conserve resources?

  • Tina made the prototype using muslin, a dog potty pad, buttons, and a cotton drawstring. I tested it under my skirt for a day and reported no discomfort, and full discreetness (I forgot I was wearing it!). 

  • For our final presentation, John researched statistics and supporting information, while I made the drawings and posters. We decided that the user would receive our product in a package, with the beeswax bar and disposable liners wrapped in the leakproof muslin shell, tied up with the drawstring.

    On the final day, I delivered the 1-minute oral presentation while my teammates demonstrated the product.