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‘Rosie’: The Egyptian Students Making Cheap, Eco-Friendly Sanitary Pads for Rural Women

September 24, 2019
Enactus Cairo University team winning the 2019 World Cup (photo courtesy of Enactus Cairo Univeristy)

Commonly regarded as a social taboo, menstruation is a monthly challenge for billions of girls and women worldwide. In many parts of the world, particularly in rural areas, access to feminine hygiene items such as pads, tampons, or menstrual cups is limited due to product unavailability and the social stigma associated with the subject. Many women and girls experience shame and embarrassment that dissuades them from discussing the issue, often leading them to rely on unsanitary methods, such as using strips of cloth or other unhygienic material to absorb menstrual flow.

It is estimated that more than half of women and girls in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) use homemade materials to manage their periods, which can often lead to reproductive health problems, including fatal toxic shock syndrome and infertility. It can also prevent women and girls from going to school or work due to the pain and discomfort they feel.

In Egypt, the Enactus team from Cairo University is aiming to change that with their social enterprise ‘Rosie‘. Cairo University’s ‘Rosie’ was named 2019’s Enactus World Cup Champion and awarded the Ford Better World Award of $50,000 against runners-up from Canada, Germany, and the United States of America.

Though Enactus Cairo University had qualified for the World Cup twice in the past, this is the team’s first time to snatch the competition’s highest honor.

“Luckily, our team is very well established in the university, and we have many good networks that help us grow. Any individual who graduates remains in the team for guidance, including graduates all the way from 2007 and 2008,” Karil El Gezairy, president of Cairo University’s Enactus chapter, told Egyptian Streets.

Enactus Cairo University team (photo courtesy of Karim El Gezairy)

Enactus, formerly known as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), is a global non-profit, non-governmental student organization headquartered in the United States, with chapters in every major university around the world. Dedicated to creating sustainable business models around the world, Enactus empowers students to develop and implement innovative social enterprises that would positively impact disenfranchised communities in their respective countries. It is one of the largest student organizations worldwide, with more than 72,000 student members from 37 countries, across 1,730 university campuses.

‘Rosie’ is a social enterprise that markets and sells organic pads that are eco-friendly and affordable. The project not only makes the product available and accessible to women in rural areas, it also helps them make a living by including them in the production and manufacturing process.

Women in rural Egypt receiving the organic pads (photo courtesy of Karim El Gezairy)

“We believed that we can make a product for women by women,” El Gezairy said. “We visited several villages in Egypt and discovered that there was a major problem, which is that a lot of women were not using sanitary products, and so we wanted to provide them with an alternative: [a product] they are able to afford and use, and [one that] is also functional.”

The journey towards developing the product wasn’t easy. El Gezairy notes that the team rented a house before the World Cup and worked all night in order to create an effective and sustainable business.

“It took a lot of effort and hard work. We are a group of 130 people, and throughout the year, many in the team worked for around 100 hours a week, sleeping for just around two to three hours [a day], then continuing to work in a never-ending cycle,” he says.

In developing the product, El Gezairy notes that the team decided that it should be completely organic and biodegradable, using banana fibers, a material two times more absorbent than other synthetic alternatives, in addition to Egyptian cotton as the main components for the pads’ bases.

On top of that, Rosie does not just aim to protect women’s health and hygiene, but also help them to earn an income and become part of the enterprise in manufacturing the product – transforming their  standard of living as a whole. “We also wanted the women to support their families and earn a living, so we cooperated with a lot of NGOs and charity organizations in order to teach these women the manufacturing process and also provide them with the product,” he adds. “We kept doing that until we applied [this model] to 12 villages overall, even reaching Uganda.”

Enactus Cairo University team member at one of the awareness workshops for girls in rural Egypt (photo courtesy of Karim El Gezairy)

The team’s main difficulty, however, was broaching the social taboo in order to address such a sensitive topic, as many of the women and girls in those areas lacked menstrual hygiene awareness. “We decided to carry out many sessions and workshops in these villages to make them more aware of the importance of menstrual hygiene, and break this taboo that prevents many women from accessing these products,” Gezairy explains.

Currently, their main goal is to include more machinery in the future to increase productivity, and hopefully expand to more areas in Egypt and help more women. “At the beginning [of any venture], the most important [thing] to keep in mind is that there is steady growth, and so at the moment, we are just hoping that this growth continues,” he says.

Made by women for women, ‘Rosie’ is a brilliant step in improving the health and lives of many and achieving multiple sustainable development goals, such as physical health and psycho-social well-being for multitudes of women. It is a business model that promotes quality education and sexual awareness for girls, female empowerment and gender equality, water preservation, as well as responsible consumption and production for the environment.

For more information, visit the Facebook page here: Rosie.

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