Kamusta (hello) Philippines!

As you probably know, SHE is shaking up the pad industry in Rwanda by making menstrual pads in part from banana fiber. BUT the Philippines have also found innovative ways to use our fiber cousin, the ABACA plant. SHE’s technical guru, Leah, headed there for two weeks to see exactly what the Philippines were up to and here is what she found!

Why is the Philippines the #1 exporter of abaca fiber?

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why people even farm abaca fiber… well it turns out that abaca fiber has a long history of being used to make paper and rope due to its fiber strength!

Why is SHE interested in ABACA fiber??

We love our banana fiber menstrual pads and we are always looking for ways to improve our process. So, Leah (SHE’s technical director and in house engineer) visited the Philippines to learn more about the fiber extraction and supply processes from our fiber cousins (the abaca plant). Over her stay, Leah visited a host of different sites specializing in fiber production, quality standards, and extraction.

In short, our tech guru will use this information to hopefully enhance and expand our ability to process banana fiber in Rwanda so that more women and girls can have access to affordable menstrual pads!

SO what did SHE find?

Despite being fiber cousins, the process used is slightly different (due to the abaca plants’ fiber strength). In the Philippines, a specialized machine is used to process this fiber; though this exact process is not suitable for banana fiber, Leah is interested in using a similar technique with banana fibers!

machinery processing the abaca fiber

HOW THIS HELPS SHE:

In terms of $$$, both plants average a similar extraction cost, but Leah still learned different ways to potentially reduce our cost back in Rwanda. The farmers in the Philippines worked with smaller portions of the plant stem which can create an easier and more cost-effective supply chain. SHE is investigating this strategy in Rwanda!

From learning first-hand about how the Philippines process abaca fiber, SHE can hopefully make better use of banana fiber in Rwanda. Enhancing the production of go! pads means that more women and girls can have access to affordable menstrual pads. Thanks for your work in the Philippines Leah, now let’s make better go! pads at home!

SHE Celebrates Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019

The host of the celebration

Welcome back to our annual coverage of Menstrual Hygiene Day! *Woo* *Woo* *Cheers* Yes, yes we are thrilled too. We have exciting news. This year SHE built a brand new girl’s room and we want to tell you all about it.

Let’s Get Into It!

For the first time, SHE partnered with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health to help promote their new national health campaign. The campaign is a pillar of support that focused on improving menstrual hygiene in schools through action and ending the stigma surrounding menstruation. This year’s theme, “Its time for action”, called for people to take action in their communities.

Following the theme, a brand new girls’ room was built in a primary school that serves over 1,200 girls. Not sure what girls’ rooms are? Well, girls’ rooms are safe havens that provide beds, sanitary products, menstrual pads, etc. For whom, you may ask? Yeah, you guessed it, for girls (Take notes, America)! Now more girls have daily access to pads, water, and other necessities so they can manage their periods while at school. What more could you want?

Well, we have more news! The celebration attracted over 10,000 people, which is double that of last year’s. Not to mention, an additional 3 million people listened and watched through radio talk shows and media coverage!

School Children watching performances

Let us give you some facts: Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) teaches women and girls how to manage their periods in a healthy and positive way so they can maintain full participation in school and work. Men and boys play essential roles in MHM and combating gender inequality. They can be allies in various ways, whether that be getting educated on menstruation or just giving moral support to their classmates.

During our festivities, girls and boys marched in solidarity against menstrual stigma and taboos. Soap opera actors graced the stage as they performed skits from their hit show.

Miss Rwanda 2019

Meghan Nimwiza’s Miss Rwanda, speech normalized menstruation and encouraged boys to support girls during their periods. We heard the testimony of a 15-year-old refugee from Tanzania who struggled with her period because her family could not afford to buy her pads. She struggled to play with her friends and focus in class until her teacher bought her a pad. One pad changed her life. The young lady calls for parents to take action and start conversations with their kids earlier rather than later.

John, SHE’s Managing Director; Ministry of Health Delegate; Director-General of Ngoma District; 15-year-old refugee girl from Tanzania (L to R)
Miss Rwanda 2019; John, SHE’s Managing Director; Ministry of Health Delegate; Director-General of Ngoma District (L to R)

The celebration was a clear success in breaking the silence around menstruation. We are grateful for all the support shown by the community including various media outlets, and organizations for helping spread the message. The active participation of organizations and outlets like Health Development and Performance (HDP), WHO, UFPA, Water Aid, BBC Rwanda, The New Times, and Radio Rwanda (just to name a few) make all the difference.

So, mark your calendars for May 28th next year because we’re hoping to see an even bigger turnout!

SHE’s Refugee Ambassador Program

 At SHE, we believe that access to menstrual pads is a basic health necessity. So why are there communities that still lack access to them? Women and girls living in Rwanda’s refugee camps struggle to obtain affordable pads on a daily basis. Income opportunities are sparse within the camps and allocation of this basic necessity is inconsistent.

Donated pads haven’t proven to be sustainable for women and girls who need them most. So we’ve partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Rwanda to launch our Refugee Ambassador Program to provide a solution to this issue. Starting with the Nyabiheke Refugee Camp, we’ve trained 49 refugee women ambassadors who have educated 4,603 women, girls, and community members on healthy menstrual hygiene practices. Ambassadors have already started earning income from hosting community education sessions and can better provide for themselves and their families. In 2019, ambassadors will start selling go! pads within the camp community to expand access to affordable go! pads to more girls and women in need.

Women ambassadors of the Nyabiheke Refugee Camp in Rwanda.
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Wallen.

What’s the Big Deal with Menstrual Pads?

Did you know that drones are now delivering blood and medical supplies to hospitals in Rwanda? While we haven’t mastered aerial distribution of go! pads, we’ve got some accomplishments that we think are a big deal. We’ve reached over a million people to date through education and advocacy, our go! pads are currently featured in the latest Smithsonian exhibit at the Gates Foundation, and we’re working with refugee camps in Rwanda to improve girls’ and women’s menstrual hygiene. Our productivity this quarter is thanks to SHEroes like you who support our mission!

 

go! Got a New Look

We make go! pads for girls so they should be designed by girls, right? Earlier this year we started a new go! pad packaging pilot supported by Johnson & Johnson’s Sustainability team to get girls’ feedback on the pad’s size, educational brochures, sales appeal, and overall look. Girls shared that they like the discrete brown paper backing of the go! pads, how easily they fit inside of pockets, and being able to purchase a 3-pack of pads if they can’t afford a whole pack. We’re wrapping up our pilot program to finalize any changes and making sure that girls have a say in the design of their menstrual pads. Stay tuned!

 

 

What’s the Real Price of Periods?

In 2009, we calculated the cost of periods to be a GDP loss of $115 million in Rwanda from women missing work. SHE28 is our solution to the global period poverty issue and we’ve already tested the waters on expansion in Zimbabwe. CNN’s latest article, When pads are a luxury, getting your period means missing out on lifereports on period poverty’s impact on school girls and working women in Tanzania. Read what SHE CEO and Founder Elizabeth Scharpf had to say about the issue in the article. If you’ve never thought about missing out on daily activities due to your period, use CNN’s period poverty calculator to find out.

Our Impact To Date

 

SHE Goes to Zimbabwe

We’ve made 520,698 go! pads to date and we’re not stopping there!

To keep the momentum going, we traveled to Zimbabwe in May to explore how we could turn what’s typically seen as plant waste into go! pads. We conducted initial fiber testing led by our very own engineer and Technical Director, Leah!

 

To kick off day one, we met with twenty-nine eager women farmers at the beautiful Magadzire Centre site to test out some new fibers. The farmers made sure to wear goggles to prepare for the messy extraction process ahead. We realized that unlike banana plants in Rwanda, Zimbabwean banana plants are full of water. This means that these varieties can be left out for up to two weeks before extraction. Immediately after extracting the fibers from the banana stems, they were placed in water to prevent discoloration. We then hung them out on a line and later stored them in dry place called a hozi, the word for storage room in the Shona language.

 

 

On the second day, our group of farmers grew by ten. They even brought with them five different banana plant varieties that we successful extracted fibers from.

Stay tuned to find out if these new fibers will be suitable for go! pads!

 

 

 

 

There is still work to be done to make SHE28 possible in Zimbabwe. Repairing the road to the site and building a centrally located banana fiber collection depot are top priorities. Our training could not have been possible without our partners in Zimbabwe. Siyabonga! Maita Basa! (Thank you!)

 

It’s Easy Being Green – SHE selected as Katerva Category Winner!

Good news, SHE fans! SHE was honored by Katerva, dubbed by Reuters as “The Nobel Prize for Sustainability,” with its 2017 award for gender equality. Katerva chose SHE out of 500 applicants because of our positive social and environmental change, along with our high potential to scale.

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It’s no secret that mainstream menstrual hygiene products are no friend to the environment. The average American woman produces 62,415 pounds of non-biodegradable menstruation related waste in her lifetime. We create go! pads in a way that reduces the environmental harm of traditional pads, using a process that transforms agro waste (e.g. banana fibers) into an absorbent core without using any chemicals or super absorbent polymers.

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Thanks to our partnership with Johnson and Johnson, we now have new technology that has completely eliminated water from our production process and reduced our electricity use by 400%. We take these steps not only to protect the environment, but also because using few resources will enable us to scale in developing economies around the globe. With your support, we’ve been successful in reaching more people with fewer resources, an important goal for businesses in the 21st century.

SHE selected for the 2014’s Sustainia 100 list

Scandinavian think tank SUSTAINIA featured our banana-fiber menstrual pads in its Sustainia 100 list – a study featuring the 100 leading sustainability innovations deployed on global markets. And our pad has been selected for its state-of-the-art innovation.

More than 900 technologies and projects on nearly all continents have been researched to identify the 100 outstanding cases, and to document where and how innovations are being developed and deployed. The study, SUSTAINIA100, is showing a growing diversity in sustainability innovations globally, which is providing businesses with new market opportunities.

The SUSTAINIA100 solutions are selected based on the three dimensions of sustainability; environmental, social, and economic. SUSTAINIA has adopted a systematic approach to collecting solutions in concert with a global sustainability network. This approach runs year round with a final deadline for solutions in March.

The full Sustainia100 publication with 100 selection cases available here
http://www.sustainia.me/resources/publications/3rd_sustainia100_2014.pdf

Introducing go!

goPads_PackageFront-01

By Connie Lewin, Strategic Partnerships and Marketing Director

Our branding process all started when I stood outside in front of 200+ girls and boys on the campus of a rural Rwandan school and we began discussing menstruation. I expected to only meet with 8-10 girls when I arrived at the school, but soon learned that it’s very common to receive a warm welcome from the entire school when you’re a new visitor.

After an awkward start when my colleague and I began introducing ourselves and what we do at SHE, the mood quickly shifted when one (brave) girl asked a question, “Can I play soccer when I am menstruating?” I’m sure a surprised look came across my face because she asked me the question again. I replied back “Of course, you can!” A sense of relief took over her body. Suddenly, more and more girls asked questions related to what they stopped doing when they had their period – laughing, dancing, riding a bike, doing chores, and going to school.

I soon began to realize that girls were missing out on more than having access to a pad; to those who even used menstrual products, they felt like they couldn’t move or do anything because if you’re “sick,” you should just stay at home.

Informed with this first-hand knowledge, the team and I began the branding process of our banana-fiber maxi-pad with these questions in mind:

 “How can we build a brand that will change the way girls think about menstruation?”

“How do we use our brand to work toward our larger goals of driving social and economic change?”

“How do we make sure our brand is used as a strategic asset, so girls can directly benefit?”

It took hundreds of conversations with girls, brainstorms and ideations within the team, and an on-street survey to develop a brand identity that we hope will change the way Rwandans think about menstruation.

go! is global. We decided to have it bi-lingual to show that will our brand is locally made, it has global aspirations to connect and serve girls in many communities. (P.S. Nshyashya means brand new)

gois bold.We’re rocking bold colors selected by the girls themselves; go! is for girls, by girls.

go! will be delivered to girls this year, and we can’t wait to see their reactions and learn more about their go! experiencesWe will be sharing more photos and testimonials about go! throughout the year, so stay tuned.

What do you think? Who do you feel we are? Let us know in the comments.