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Naturally Free

Providing girls and women with access to affordable, appealing, environmentally friendly sanitary wear and concurrent economic opportunity.

Photo of Coenie Louw
21 10

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Lack of access to sanitary wear jeopardizes the rights of girls and women to equality, health and education. Attitudes towards menstruation and the provision of sanitary wear demonstrates the low priority given to girls’ and women’s basic rights. Individuals forced to use unsuitable products (grass, rags) or to withdraw from daily activities cannot enjoy their rights to dignity, equality and health. School attendance: Lack of access to sanitary wear helps to reproduce gender inequalities in access to education. Poverty coupled with low levels of SRHR education can exacerbate girls’ risk of sexual exploitation when they reach puberty. There is no large-scale, up-to-date data on the number of school days lost to menstruation in South Africa or the continent as a whole. Solutions need to be based on evidence and experience. Sanitation In order to maintain personal hygiene, whether using disposable or reusable pads, girls and women need reliable access to adequate clean water and cleaning products. Most of the girls and women who struggle to access sanitary wear also live in water-scarce communities. Millions do not have basic sanitation. Efforts to realise menstrual health rights need to factor in the issue of water and sanitation. To address all these challenges faced by girls and women, and the planet, Naturally Free aims to produce affordable, comfortable and appealing sanitary wear using a combination of natural fibers. Naturally Free sanitary pads will be 100% compostable and environmentally friendly - degrading to soil within 180 days - with none of the plastics (polyethelene, polypropelene etc) and difficult to biodegrade ingredients used in commercial brands.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Girls and women from menarche to menopause in South Africa and Zimbabwe will benefit from natural product that are affordable and appealing. Women's groups will benefit financially from a social franchise business model where they can produce raw material, manufacture, market and/or distribute sanitary pads to their communities. The planet will benefit from a reduction in pollutants, use of agricultural waste products and a product that is 100% compostable - meaning it will degrade to soil within 180 days.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Sanitary wear are marketed as biodegradable, however biodegradable can mean 1000s of years. Our product is 100% compostable, meaning it will degrade to soil within 180 days and consists of only natural fibers. Most sanitary products used are considered ‘disposable’. That means they are thrown away in landfills and pit latrines. About 90% of the materials used to make sanitary pads and liners include polyethylene, polypropylene and polyacrylate super absorbents. Pads and tampons may be marketed as ‘biodegradable’ but the but the length of time they take to fully break down or decompose could be up to 1000 years. If a product does not fully break down, the resulting ‘microplastics’ can pollute the environment including soil and ground water.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Gateway Health Institute is a South African Not for Profit focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women. http://www.ghi.ngo

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Millions of girls and women in Africa do not have access to affordable sanitary wear. Pads should be comfortable for girls and women to wear and meet the same standards as women and girls in the developed world. Investing in keeping girls in school is a powerful investment that benefits both individuals and society. Education unlocks the potential to improve health, nutrition, social justice, democracy, human rights, gender equality, social cohesion, and economic prosperity.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Planet - If a product does not fully break down, the resulting ‘microplastics’ can pollute the environment including soil and ground water. Use of disposable sanitary pads produces around 150 kilograms of sanitary waste per person in a lifetime. About 90% of the materials used to make sanitary pads and liners include polyethylene, polypropylene and polyacrylate super absorbents. Pads and tampons may be marketed as ‘biodegradable’ but the but the length of time they take to fully break down or decompose could be up to 1000 years. Prosperity - if girls have access to sanitary wear they will not miss the average of 48 school days per year, improving their chances of completing school and furthering their education. The project aims to empower women through a social franchise business model that will creat opportunties for women to earn an income by producing either raw material or manufacturing sanitary pads, packaging them, and marketing and distribution thereof.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our partners are the Sex Rights Africa Network (SRAN) - hosted by the AIDS Foundation of South Africa and Katswe Sistahood - a Zimbabwean NGO working in the SRHR sector. We are all working together to ensure girls and women have access to affordable sanitary wear. Gateway will be responsible for production of sanitary pads in South Africa and Katswe Sistahood will be the licensed franchiser in Zimbabwe. SRAN in collaboration with WITS will be responsible for testing the pads with 500 girls. The project is supported by the government of Zimbabwe in that the government scrapped import duty on both raw materials and machinery needed to manufacture sanitary wear and support for the social franchise business model to empower women. Researching the feasibility, viability and characteristics of the sanitary wear will be done in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The project will provide opportunities to women to move out of poverty by supplying them with small business opportunities. Both South Africa and Zimbabwe have many women trapped in unemployment and poverty that are eager and ready to be empowered to start their own small businesses. Female and male small holder farmers are eager to benefit from their agricultural waste or to produce raw material that will benefit girls and women in their communities.

Geographic Focus

South Africa and Zimbabwe to start, later the Southern African (SADEC) region.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

36 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

21 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Vicky S.
Team

Congrats on your idea! This will greatly benefit underprivileged women. Access to sanitary products should be a fundamental right and it is a shame some people don't see it that way.

There is another initiative in this year's challenge called: "100% Biodegradable & Compostable Sanitary pads made from Banana fiber"

Maybe you should look into partnering with them. Their idea is very similar to yours and it looks like both of your ideas also focus on the environmentally-conscious aspect of female hygiene products.

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Thank you, Vicky, we are always prepared to collaborate and/or partner with like minded organisations.

Photo of One World In A Box
Team

Dear Coenie,

I agree with Vicky, the other initiative with sanitary pads also makes a great partner for your project. One of my questions for them was actually what they do about any smells, so my question for you is the same, how do you avoid any odors?
Furthermore, do you in any way involve your beneficiaries in your project?

I look forward hearing from you ! In any case, all the best!

Best,

M. Ahmadi

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Thank you very much for your comments. As for smells, I am not sure what you mean - if sanitary wear is changed often, and if girls and women practice good feminine hygiene then there will be no smells to be concerned about. The solution is to provide girls with enough sanitary wear to enable them to change 4 to 5 times a day. That is why we are packaging the pads in packs of 20s. Deodorizers and scents causes more infection and harm than good, and should be avoided.
Best
Coenie

Photo of One World In A Box
Team

Thank you for the clarification! But what about the involvement of beneficiaries, perhaps by holding a questionnaire to ask them how user friendly the pads are etc. is a way? I'm also wondering how affordable the product is for women?

Thank you!

Best,

M. Ahmadi

Photo of Tabi Ewing
Team

Fantastic idea! We need these to be the mainstream!
The materials used and compostable element sounds as though it fits the local social/environmental context really well.
Have you thought about exporting the product?

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Hallo Tabi

Thank you for your comments. We have done extensive ground work to ensure we fill the gaps in local context. I do believe our product can be mainstreamed. Having a green product, with green packaging will surely be a first. A huge problem here is that there are alternative solutions, like washable pads (we don't want to say re-usable as it creates the impression that it is used over and over) are still packaged in plastic without concern for the environment. As for exporting, yes we are indeed thinking along that lines, but more important is involving communities while ensuring we develop a set of standards approved by our Buro of Standards.

Photo of Tabi Ewing
Team

Hi Coenie
Yes a global issue - packaging in plastic with no concern. However solutions like Naturally Free, offer hope of changing this trend!

Great to hear you are thinking of exporting and this could provide a source of income to reinvest in community. We would be very please to explore collaborations!

We would love to welcome you onto the OASIIS platform of global social entrepreneurs, for an idea of OASIIS check out the first OASIIS Biennial report (as an attachment to our idea):
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/review/oasiis-bridging-a-network-of-global-citizens-for-a-new-economy/comments#comments-section

All the best
Tabi

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Thank you, Tabi
And thank you for the invitation to join OASIIS. I will read through your report and will revert soonest.

Photo of Tabi Ewing
Team

Great, looking forward to hearing from you!
Best
Tabi

Photo of Jaci Braga
Team

Brilliant idea. I could see women around the world purchasing these products because they are biodegradable and especially if the proceeds helped low-income women in Africa to receive them for free! In terms of pads, it would be amazing if we could get them in different sizes. Personally I much prefer the very small pads for light days and I know some women that use these on an almost daily basis, even when they are not menstruating. Therefore, having a biodegradable option for these small pads could also have a big impact.

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Dear Jaci

Thank you for your comment and encouragement.
We are definitely looking at different sizes. During a discussion held we were also asked about day/night pads, and pads for light/heavy flows. Your suggestion confirms what women want.
Unfortunately our videos about this discussion, which included a pad design activity, was not yet available at the time of submitting this idea - hopefully we will have an opportunity to upload them in the near future.
Having compostable sanitary wear, packaged in 100% green, environmentally friendly packaging will surely appeal to women all over - you are right and we are hoping for the same.
Best wishes
Coenie

Photo of Jaci Braga
Team

Dear Coenie,

I was sharing your project with our mentors and we were thinking that this would be something great that we could share with our girls empowerment clubs as well. Please do keep in touch so that we can collaborate in the future when your product hits the market!

Best wishes,

Jaci

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Dear Jaci

Thank you. You are welcome to continue the discussion via email louwc@ghi.ngo.

Best wishes

Photo of Jaci Braga
Team

Thanks Coenie! :)

Photo of Courtney
Team

This proposal meets a very important need for girls and women. I really like that the product will be compostable. I also like the entrepreneurial components - small business opportunities for women and the opportunity for smallholder farmers to sell their agricultural waste. The key will be figuring out how to get the price point low enough so that customers living in extreme poverty are able to afford them.

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Dear Courtney

Thank you for your positive comments. I hope that our approach of a social franchise will benefit both women and small holder farmers. Our approach will be to license women's groups to own franchises on a royalty free basis. Our aim will be to price a pack of ten at around $1 a day and then 20 @$<2. Franchisees will make money on a basis of low cost high sales volumes.
Here is a link to a video we made of a recent meeting in Johannesburg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIjJiLysIPQ
It was not ready when I sumbitted the idea...but gives an indication of commitment to really affordable sanitary wear.

Photo of Ali Candrick
Team

This is an amazing idea! I am sure women all over the world would use this due to the large positive impact it would have on the environment! Keep up the good work!

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Thank you Ali, in this day and age we should focus on products that will not do more damage to our planet :-)

Photo of Clare Sewell
Team

Great focus!
You might want to look into the option to work with local clothing manufacturers to produces reusable sanitary pads from fabric scraps, a friend does something similar in Malawi: http://www.mayamiko.org/feminine-hygiene-period-poverty.html

Photo of Coenie Louw
Team

Dear Clare

Thank you for your comment. The only issue we have with the washable sanitary pads is that in regions such as Southern Africa which is in general troubled by drought - people living on 25 liters of water a day have trouble washing the fabric pads. You can imagine that if you have to cook, bathe, feed babies and maintain basic hygiene then washing pads become problematic. It is for that reason that we are looking at pads and tampons that can be disposed of without the environmental impact of commercially available pads. Another challenge we found with fabric pads is that they have to be dried in direct sunlight because the UV rays in sunlight is used to disinfect the pads- but due to stigma, girls prefer not to hang them out in the open, creating more chances for infection.
While we provide girls and young women with information on all available options including butterfly cups and washable pads, we believe that in water scarce areas, we need to focus on a pad that is not only comfortable and appealing, but does not require a lot of water and is compostable.