We have moved ahead in many ways - however, to what extent?
We live in a country where menstrual health is still a taboo, and mothers almost never talk to their teenage daughters about menstruation. Menstruation is an entirely normal biological process and a sign of good health – yet, it is still enshrouded in myths and misconceptions, and for any menstruating woman, the entire process of bleeding for almost a week is taxing – both physically and emotionally.
The concept of keeping everything about menstruation behind the doors still exists in Bangladesh. Yes, we have moved ahead in many ways - however, to what extent?
Resurgence, a social enterprise, is the brainchild of four individuals - Mashiyat Rahman, Naziba Naila Wafa, Rafayet Khan and Ivana Murtaza Asfara from BRAC University, which started off in February 2017. It aims at spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene amongst the underprivileged community of our society by manufacturing low-cost, biodegradable sanitary napkins made of kochuripana (water hyacinth), which is easily available across Bangladesh.
The young entrepreneurs of Resurgence were participating in the Hult Prize Competition where they had to come up with an idea that would solve the refugee crisis by the year 2020. While participating in that competition, they paid a number of visits to the nearest refugee camp which was the Geneva Camp and upon a number of visits, they got a thorough idea of their everyday life. “Among all the problems, the problem of sanitation stood out and that is when we decided to build Resurgence, not for us but for them,” informed Naziba Naila Wafa, while discussing how Resurgence came about.
“Initially, we started with the idea of mainly tackling the problem regarding menstruation only but as time is passing by, we are also trying to work on sexual education, consent and female rights,” she added.
When asked about the motivation to get Resurgence off the ground, the members went on to say, “During one of our initial visits, we came across a 14-year-old girl called Marium. We asked her why she wasn’t going to school, to which, she replied that she stopped going to school after she got married as she started menstruating. We were appalled by the situation and after digging deeper, we got a clear idea of the horrible condition, the females of the camp were living in.”
During menstruation, the females use rags and torn clothes which are extremely unhygienic as they were not being able to afford sanitary pads. Also, due to the taboo revolving around the topic, they were not able to dispose them or wash and dry them properly which led them to either use the damp, unwashed cloth or bury them in the ground. Moreover, females were being married off as soon as they start menstruating regarding which they had no clue until they actually get their periods. This was their main motivation for starting Resurgence. It seemed ridiculous to the members of Resurgence that people were more disgusted by the blood that was coming out of women’s body than the blood coming out of wars.
The young entrepreneurs were researching on how to solve the crisis of expensive sanitary pads for the underprivileged people and if there is any way to tone down the expenses. They conducted two pilot projects, one in Mohammadpur Bihari Camp and another in Hazaribagh, where they reached out to more than 6,000 women, most of whom were garment workers and house servants. The major issues faced by the people in these camps centred around food, shelter and sanitation. Appalled at the unhealthy living conditions of the camps, the team of Resurgence was motivated to do something for the people. While conducting the research, they came across Jani Pads; a company based in Kenya that was making low cost biodegradable sanitary pads made with water hyacinth. The members contacted them and asked them for directions and opportunity for collaboration to which they agreed, but after they came back from Shanghai (Regional round of HULT Prize), Jani Pads had closed down.
“After Jani Pads stopped operating, convincing other people to work with us was another obstacle that we faced, but except for that, the people we met every step of the way during the formation of Resurgence were all extremely helpful and encouraging which made the whole journey more of an exciting adventure rather than an impossible mission,” said Naziba.
“As there is a huge social stigma revolving around the topic of menstruation, the biggest obstacle was to convince women and men to work with us. At the beginning, the men refused to work with the production of sanitary pads while the women would not even talk about the ‘forbidden topic’. Thus, to be able to convince them to speak out regarding their problems, thoughts and opinions about periods was a major obstacle for us,” she added.
Even after launching the initiative, it took them quite a while to break the social stigmas surrounding menstruation and explain the importance of menstrual hygiene to people. Women were uncertain and men were not ready to send women to workshops. However, local leaders helped the team to connect efficiently with the people.
‘Let’s Talk Period’ was the first social media-based campaign that Resurgence carried out. They asked their online audience to describe their initial perception or experience regarding period. The response that they got was absolutely amazing. “Not only were we flooded with responses but we also realized how such a large population are so less educated regarding this topic. It made us more adamant on pushing our campaigns and give more emphasis on educating people about menstruation,” said the members.
They have also carried out a number of other campaigns like Amar Shorir Amar Odhikaar (My Body My Right) which was designed to teach the underprivileged females about the importance of consent, Meye Bolte Ki Bujho (What Does Girl/Woman Mean To You) which was more of a women empowerment and female rights oriented awareness campaign among the school children of the underprivileged communities and ‘They Need Resurgence’ which was their first awareness-raising campaign about the social enterprise.
When asked what has been the biggest achievement for them so far, the members of Resurgence replied, “Starting from winning the title of the ‘Most Inspirational Female Startup’ at the WIL Fest in 2018 to our CEO, Mashiyat Rahman, being able to represent Resurgence at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, expressing her views and opinions regarding the new menstruation emoticon, our CMO, Naziba Naila Wafa, being able to get the opportunity to represent Resurgence and Bangladesh in Macau as GSEA winner of Bangladesh, and a massive win in the local scene with our CFO, Ivana Murtaza Asfara, representing Resurgence to become champion at a2i's Udhbhabok Er Khoj E, supported by the government of Bangladesh, to all the mention that we got in every channel of social media has been nothing but a short of milestone in its own way.”
Using easily-accessible plant species, the sanitary napkins made by Resurgence are not only significantly cheaper in comparison to other napkins in the market but are also eco-friendly considering the biodegradability of the material being used. Furthermore, the startup employs women in the production process, creating sustainable employment opportunities.
Each pad has a number of layers made up with water hyacinth which makes the pads super absorbent and this makes the pads last longer.
The biggest challenge, according to Ivana Murtaza Asfara, is to commence mass production of the sanitary pads in order to reach its full potential.
Resurgence has already managed to touch the lives of countless women and teenagers with its ongoing public health awareness campaigns in schools and slums. “Currently, we are trying to develop the first messenger bot about menstruation in Bangladesh that will be able to answer any and every question one can have about menstruation. Also, we are planning to hold more campaigns emphasizing on periods and consent.”
The young entrepreneurs of Resurgence are just four individuals who love doing what they do and are trying to come up with ideas to solve problems that are being neglected each and every day. “We are extremely happy to see other organizations that are also working with the same goal and it fills our hearts with immense joy that we are not alone who are fighting every day, to bring down these stigmas,” they said.