Women in the Environment

Industry and government has done a good job at ignoring the needs of 51% of the world’s population. Women are consistently overlooked and exploited by profiteering companies. This is both a problem and a tremendous opportunity. And that’s where PINK has found its niche: manufacturing and supply menstrual products.

Its roots go back to 2015, when founder Nelisa Ngqulana was standing in the aisle of a shop, trying to decide which pads to buy. The cheapest pack cost R50. Shocked, she decided that she needed to see what she could do to change this. This was also at the time that a national movement was growing to change the industry, with a focus on getting cheap menstrual products to schoolchildren and women who could not afford them.

Ngqulana went off and did research into the industry, and quickly ran into the problem of the environmental impact that pads and tampons have. In partnership with the Midlands Meander Education Programme, she started PINK and began working in schools and communities around Howick, in KwaZulu-Natal.

Their first product was a washable pad for young girls. These were designed to look like face cloths, so that people didn’t feel self-conscious when hanging them up to dry. Small things like this increase the chances of a product being bought and used. For PINK, understanding the market was also critical, because people tend to stick with the same pad or tampon brand that their mom or caregiver introduced them to.

Making eco-friendly alternatives to expensive pads is also expensive, especially when you are trying to do it in communities. PINK got three elderly women to sew the reusable pads, giving them something to supplement their pensions. Where the capacity doesn’t yet exist — as with menstrual cups — PINK buys locally produced alternatives that it then sells in communities.

Growing from this small but sustainable base, Ngqulana has found a machine in India that can make disposable sanitary pads. While it is expensive, it will allow her to increase production. Then the people in her company can focus on creating new menstrual products, and on speaking to women in communities about what they need.

PINK is part of an exciting and growing movement, with women creating businesses by looking out for their needs. The fact that it is built on eco-friendly credentials can only bode well for PINK, and for the communities it works in. 

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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