Girls in low- and middle-income countries struggle to maintain good menstrual hygiene in part due to a lack of affordable sanitary products. The unaffordability of reliable sanitary products can lead to school absenteeism and is a barrier to education attainment and gender equality for girls in low-income contexts. Further, the lack of adequate disposal facilities can lead to social embarrassment and environmental pollution. Low-cost biodegradable absorbents (cotton terry cloth, linen, hemp cloth and bamboo wadding) were investigated in gelatine solution in terms of their absorption for use in menstrual hygiene. Bamboo wadding exhibits the highest absorption index (7.86), greater than cotton terry cloth (0.84), hemp cloth (1.4), linen (1.57) and a commercial sanitary pad (4.38). Though the absorption index of bamboo wadding is promising, especially in light of the vast availability of bamboo in tropical low- and middle-income countries, challenges lie in overcoming complex extraction processes from bamboo plants, which is discussed. This simple research of a physical material from a technical aspect, if further investigated with a social science and policy lens, could increase school attendance, improve the education levels attained by girls and be a key step towards gender equality in low- and middle-income countries.
Keywords: absorbency; adolescence; bamboo; biodegradable; gender equality; low income; menstrual hygiene; menstruation; sanitary pad.