Escalate

This social business is challenging the menstrual discourse

- ALISHA SIJAPATI, Kathmandu

Jun 9, 2019-

Despite coming from different worlds, this lawyer and civil engineer duo’s work for the shared social cause of fighting menstrual taboos was not an easy task.

But 23-year-olds, Jesselina Rana and Shubhangi Rana’s social business Pad2Go, a sanitary pad vending machine distributor, has been realised and they are being lauded for their work.

Living in the outskirts of Delhi, Jesselina and her law school friends often had to buy sanitary pads in bulk while heading to the city. Bulk-buying turned out to be unfeasible in the long run, however, but with the help of student council members, they introduced a vending machine. They could finally purchase sanitary pads on the go, says Jesselina. Although vending machines were not new in the Indian market, Jesselina often thought how easier life would be if Nepali women had such things.

Jesselina, a lawyer and human rights officer at Amnesty International, and Shubhangi, a civil engineer for Sanima Hydropower Project, got to know each other at social gatherings during the summer of 2018. Both returning to Kathmandu following their graduation soon after, they wanted to start something to help society—even in the smallest way possible.

While Jesselina’s interest in law is primarily focused on gender and human rights, and Shubhangi’s interests lie in engineering and water sanitation, they found a common cause.

“When we planned on doing the sanitary pad vending machine, we realised that there is a great link between gender, human rights and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH),” says Shubhangi.

Neither came from business backgrounds, so they had to learn to jump the hurdles of starting their own business. To import the six-kilogram vending machines, they had to first register their company Rana and Rana Enterprises.

While their lack of experience put up some walls, they both found the somewhat risky venture exciting. Despite taking some time, and not starting too smoothly, once they had jumped some hurdles, they were officially the first to introduce sanitary pad vending machines to Nepal.

“When we finally hatched the entire plan of moving forward with Pad2Go, we had decided that this was not going to be entirely business and for-profit,” Jesselina says.

Since Pad2Go’s October 2018 launch, both Jesselina and Shubhangi have gained praise for their contribution to society, as Pad2Go donates 15 percent of its income to schools in Bajura. Those schools have benefited from the rental and sale of more than 44 machines across Nepal, in various schools and corporate houses such as Buddha Air, QFX Cinemas and Hotel Shambala.

“Pricing is crucial in social business, you cannot make your products expensive and inaccessible to people,” says Shubhangi. “We thought of renting and buying options, we subsidised rent rates, especially for public educational institutions.”

The vending machines can fit in up to 25 sanitary napkins. Until now, Pad2Go has collaborated with Unilever for Whisper pads and Nepali-made Jasmine pads which cost Rs 15 and Rs 10 respectively. The rental cost for these vending machines for four months is Rs 5,500, while schools pay Rs 4,500.  

Buddha Air’s head office in Jawalakhel was the first organisation to have a Pad2Go vending machine. Buddha Holidays CEO Astha Basnet says: “We want to promote social causes and try our level best to empower women in every small way we can, so providing sanitary pad vending machines is just us trying to normalise menstruation—something people often don’t openly talk about.”

Talking about menstrual issues is one thing, but access is just as important—and lacking, Jesselina says.

“We realised that there was not enough accessibility to sanitary pads, there was lack of discourse—not just in schools in the Capital, but massively in remote areas,” says Jesselina. “Girls are sometimes stopped from going to schools when on their period. We want to walk towards the movement of empowering these girls and educating them about menstruation and its myths.”

To pass on the social message of empowering society on menstruation, Jesslina and Shubhangi both have held workshops in and around Kathmandu Valley and other places. Their first workshop was held at Lincoln School for the students club PLUM—Please Learn and Understand Menstruation project, .

“Starting out from the PLUM project really helped us create that momentum and motivated us to work better for our future plans,” says Shubhangi.  

Working with locals too, they have faced several issues. “Many people hardly take us seriously because of our age and they tend to dismiss our ideas easily,” says Shubhangi. In January, when they participated in the Aguasan Workshop in Switzerland, they experienced a different kind of exposure, however.

“We learnt a lot during that workshop, and we were all treated equally and were on par with each other, despite the years of experience of others,” says Jesselina.  

While these two social entrepreneurs are busy juggling their day jobs, Jesselina and Shubhangi take out time for each other once a week to extensively discuss their plans.

“It is not easy to work full time and give time to our passion project but we believe in what we do and we’ll try our best to spread awareness on menstrual health through our small social enterprise,” says Jesselina.

 

Published: 10-06-2019 06:30

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