Akhila is a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she i...
Eco-Friendly, Women-Centric Approaches Towards Female Sanitation
In honour of International Women's Day I'm writing about something that most women take for granted - female hygiene during mensuration. Many women in the developing world can miss up to 50 school or working days per year due to lack of proper feminine hygiene.
SHE and Female Hygiene with Banana Fibers
To alleviate the problem, in Rwanda a Harvard MBA graduate Elizabeth Scharpf formed the Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE). The organization then started working with Rwandan women to make sanitary pads made with banana-tree fibers. Since 2009, SHE has also trained 5,000 Rwandan women to set up their own micro-enterprises, creating an industry that is as sustainable as its product. They have also been educating women about female hygiene to create health awareness.
With every woman-led business that SHE invests in, roughly 100 jobs are created and approximately 100,000 girls and women gain access to affordable sanitary products. Scharpf hopes to expand the Rwanda model to other countries over time.
The Jani Pad
More recently, five students from Sweden and Norway banded together to create sanitary protection using fibers from water hyacinth. The water hyacinth in Lake Victoria, Kenya is an invasive plant that causes a lot of environmental problems. As the plant grows very fast, it can easily blanket an entire lake cutting off light - this creates havoc for transportation and also destroys local ecosystems. However as the fibers of the plant can be spun and used for paper making, it was put to use to create sanitary pads.
Roughly 870,000 girls in Kenya miss four days of school every month due to a lack of feminine protection and underwear. The Jani pad is made of four layers of water-hyacinth paper. Each layer has different characteristics like perforated holes to improve absorption or beeswax to prevent leakage. The pad also comes with slits on the top layer to conform to the wearer's body.
Importance of Women Entrepreneurs
Both of these products have women-centric approaches to women-centric problems. According to the US State Department there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide and they earn more than $10 trillion every year. Environmental issues, social problems and community upliftment are all areas that women naturally gravitate towards and all these areas present ample business opportunities as demonstrated by these two initiatives.
However in spite of everything that women can bring to the work place, in many parts of the world they are met with unfair disadvantages. International Women's Day highlights this and brings to light the importance of women towards creating balanced societies everywhere.
Photo Credit: The Jani Pad.