Zero Waste – Empowering Women

Every once in a while you come across a project so inspiring, you cannot help but be moved by it. Although this article is about zero waste, it is really a story about empowering women and respecting the struggles they endure everyday. 

Empowering Women

A very good friend of mine, Vanessa Lawless, has for many years, volunteered in Pattaya, working together with local women and children in desperate need of help.

Life in Pattaya

Pattaya is about 100 km South of Bangkok in Thailand and has gained a reputation for being a party town.  Perhaps the main reason for this would be the proliferation of illegal prostitution and drugs. Paradoxically, some of the main issues endemic in Pattaya

include prostitution and drug addiction. If you take a look behind the curtains of this tinsel town and its bright lights you will start to notice its dirty secrets. Once the party has finished and the sun rises things look a little different.

Some women that come to work in Pattaya are lured by the promise of ‘easy’ money working in bars and a ‘party’ lifestyle. Other times, they are coerced into coming, to provide for families back home already living in poverty. Very rarely when a woman comes to Pattaya does she know what she is getting herself into.

Unwanted pregnancies, rape, drug addiction, violence. This is what greets many of these women and once the cycle begins it becomes almost impossible to escape.

Offering Some Hope

Vanessa volunteers with a local outreach organisation called Hand to Hand. Hand to Hand, works with local disadvantaged kids and young adults, offering support where they can. With its incredible team of volunteers, Hand to Hand does it’s best to help mainly young women and girls living in the slums of Pattaya.

Visits to the local prisons to see women, often with young babies, are vitally important.  Food and sanitary products are not always available unless you have money to buy them. Caring for orphaned children, abandoned by drug-addicted mothers unable to look after them. Collecting and distributing charity donations around the slums.

All of this work was invaluable but Vanessa always felt that more could be done to help the women in particular.

After living in Thailand, where waste management systems are not great, it became really clear how much single-use rubbish gets consumed and ultimately ending up in landfill or the ocean. I wanted to start a project that could help women and girls in the slums of Thailand, while also making a positive environmental impact.”

Days for Girls

Then one day, she was introduced to a charity called Days for Girls. Days for Girls is a global foundation which works with vulnerable women and girls from over 110 countries, providing health services and education.

Vanessa knew that one of the major problems the young women faced were feminine hygiene issues. Often there was little or no education or experience in these matters. Mainly though, there is no money. They simply couldn’t afford to buy tampons or sanitary pads. Sometimes, they were forced to use scraps of clothing or old newspaper. This, of course, led to health issues but with no financial means for treatment, many of the problems become serious.

Reusable vs Disposable

We have written before about the environmental issues of disposable feminine hygiene products, here and here. Trying to dispose of these products is a serious problem worldwide and not just in Developing Countries. In the US alone the average woman uses 11,000-16,000 tampons over the course of her lifetime. Source: CNN.

Not only are disposable products extremely wasteful and expensive, there are the health issues too. Often caused by the plastic encapsulated within the products. Even in the most hygienic of situations, infections occur and pungent smells emanate. Imagine trying to use these products in the slums or the dirty toilet of a brothel.

So, reusables make a much better choice for the environment and they are safer, but for these women, in particular, it gives them more control over their lives.

The DFG Kit

Days for Girls know how important empowering women is. They developed the DfG POD kits especially for women in these kinds of situations. Each of these kits will last for up to 3 years and training is provided by volunteers on how to use and care for the reusable kit, along with basic environmental awareness education.

Developing the DfG Kit was hard. It went through 27 iterations, incorporating feedback from thousands of women and girls around the globe in the design process.

It all starts with a DfG POD (Portable Object of Dignity), which contains 1 waterproof shield and 2 absorbent liners. Additional accessories are also available depending on need and budget requirements. PODs are the seed for Micro-Enterprises because they can be sold at an affordable price point, other components can be added in the future. Because DfG Kits last for years, this is a timeline that works for many women. Days for Girls prioritizes using locally-available materials whenever possible.

You may notice that these Kits don’t look like traditional pads…and there’s a reason for that. The bright colours camouflage staining. The absorbent liners unfold to look like a washcloth, which allows women to wash and dry them outside in the sun without causing embarrassment. All of these design choices add up to a lasting, easy-to-care-for solution.

The Impact

It is difficult to imagine the impact a resource like this can have for young women. For many, the choices they face during their menstruation are stark. Often times they are simply forced to wait indoors, sitting on cardboard for several days, hoping that someone would bring food or water. Health issues, embarrassment and financial stress adding to an already difficult life.

Sanitation is something that people in the more developed Countries take for granted which is how it should be. Unfortunately, for too many people this is not the reality they have to live, every day.

What Next?

So far, Vanessa has raised enough money to provide 97 girls with their own kits, free of charge. Working with, Hand to Hand and other charities, she continues to reach out to these vulnerable young girls and continues to change lives. And, close to the Myanmar/Thai border, another group, Women with a Mission, are also doing their best, working with female refugees who are stranded, unable to live or study anywhere.

They are working hard every day to get more kits but they need help. I have listed below some contact details. Please check them out and if possible make a donation, every cent you can give will help out. Or even better, if you know of any women or girls in need then start your own initiative and lend a hand. Empowering women benefits all of society.