Reusable Sanitary Pads Can End Period Poverty, Generate Extra Income

eamstress Fadilah Ali who has 15 years of experience sewing traditional and modern garments for men and women now plans to make and sell her own line of affordable and eco-friendly reusable sanitary towels.

The idea emerged when the 44-year-old woman attended a recent workshop, organised by Bidadari Malaysia, at the low-cost People’s Housing Project (PPR) scheme in Gombak Setia, Selangor, where volunteers showed the participants how to sew their own washable cloth pads.

(Bidadari Malaysia is a non-governmental organisation that has been addressing issues concerning period poverty and violence against women as well as advocating cancer prevention over the last five years.)

Fadilah said she never knew how easy it was to sew reusable sanitary pads until she saw the live demonstrations at the workshop, attended mainly by the PPR residents.

What is more, she can do it with minimal capital as she already has a bulk of the raw material at hand – the leftover scraps of fabric that can be used to make the feminine pads.

“All this while, I’ve been using the cloth scraps to make hair ties which I give away free to my customers. But now I will use the material to sew reusable sanitary pads and earn some additional money,” she told Bernama when met at the workshop where she successfully stitched a pad on her own in just 10 minutes.  



Fadilah estimates she can produce around 10 reusable pads out of a piece of fabric measuring one metre in length and price them at RM8 to RM10 each.

“I will first try using the pads I make because I need to experience wearing them before selling,” she said, adding she hopes to teach other PPR residents how to sew the washable pads which they can either sell or give away to underprivileged women.

Currently, most reusable sanitary pads available in the market are primarily made of brightly coloured flannel along with an absorbent material like cotton.

Fadilah, meanwhile, is also thinking of creating more aesthetically pleasing packaging for her cloth pads, with their sizes and thickness tailored to meet the preferences of young women and teenagers.

Bidadari Malaysia volunteer Azura Ibrahim, 43, a nurse at a private clinic here, said she has been using the washable cloth pads for two years now and not once did she feel unclean or uncomfortable.

“They are not only cheaper but also safer to use compared to disposable sanitary pads which are made of synthetic materials like plastic and are not environmentally friendly,” she said.

According to Azura, based on a study done by her NGO and factoring in current prices, each woman spends about RM26 a month on disposable sanitary pads, with the amount spent accumulating to RM312 a year, RM3,120 (over 10 years) and RM6,240 (20 years).

“The cost is far higher than that of reusable pads for which a woman needs to spend only about RM36 to acquire six pads which she can use up to three years,” she said, adding to retain the absorbency of fabric pads, neither softeners nor bleaches must be used when washing them.   



Malaysian NGOs and activists advocate the use of reusable pads as a strategy to combat period poverty. Period poverty refers to the inaccessibility of menstruation products and washing facilities to those who menstruate.

Media reports have quoted Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri as saying that the National Population and Family Development Board’s 2023 Menstrual Management Status Study Report revealed 9.9 percent of 130,000 female students have “problems obtaining products to manage their periods”.

Meanwhile, Bidadari Malaysia chairman Napsiah Khamis said although period poverty is not a new issue, the topic remains taboo with not many people willing to discuss it in public, despite the fact that some girls skip school when they menstruate as they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads.

“We’ve heard some girls use socks or batik cloth as pads. We also spoke to the homeless… (apparently) some of them go in search of old cloths discarded in garbage bins, which they use as sanitary pads,” she said.

Napsiah said the problems faced by underprivileged girls and women compelled her organisation to introduce them to the more economical reusable sanitary pads.

“It is something they themselves can sew… they can also help other women,” she said, adding period poverty worsened during the Movement Control Order as many lost their jobs then and could not afford to buy sanitary napkins.



Bidadari Malaysia’s fabric sanitary pad sewing initiative has so far benefited 1,000 women in Kuala Lumpur, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.

Napsiah said one of their workshops was held in a remote Orang Asli village in Kelantan where the women did not know how to use a sewing machine.

“So, we (Bidadari Malaysia volunteers) taught them to stitch the pads by hand,” she said.

She also said criticisms from various quarters, some questioning the importance of this issue compared to prevailing prices of essential goods, failed to dampen her spirit. In fact, her organisation’s efforts have led to an increase in awareness especially among men.

“Once we even received a lorry load of reusable sanitary pads donated by a man. Companies, businessmen and organisations have also donated pads. This means there is awareness, hence we have to (continue) promoting this (period poverty) issue,” she said.

According to Napsiah, some university students have also researched and written about period poverty in their thesis.

She also urged companies and organisations to offer free sanitary napkins in their toilets.

“In Taiwan and South Korea, a one-day unrecorded leave is given to women suffering from menstrual cramps. It helps to elevate the dignity of women in those countries. In Malaysia, some companies have already embarked on such an initiative, that’s the kind of awareness we aim for,” she added.

She also said her NGO, in collaboration with a women's issues-related NGO in Kenya, plans to send its first consignment of reusable sanitary towels to the African nation after Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Over 50 percent of women in Kenya reportedly experience period poverty.

Interestingly, the reusable pads concerned will be stitched by the women who learned to make them at the workshops organised by Bidadari Malaysia.

Translated by Rema Nambiar

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