We live in a world where a human-created spacecraft landed on an asteroid, yet millions of girls in Africa alone, have to skip school each month, because of their periods. They use sticks, leaves, paper, or dirty rags as feminine “hygiene” products, or even “sitting in the sand until that time of the month is over.”
UNICEF estimates that one in 10 menstruating African girls skip school every month or drop out completely. Water Aid further found that, “95 percent of girls in Ghana sometimes miss school due to menses and 86 percent and 53 percent of girls in Garissa and Nairobi (respectively) in Kenya miss a day or more of school every two months. In Ethiopia, 51 percent of girls miss between one and four days of school per month because of menses and 39 percent reported reduced performance.”
Menstruation is a taboo in many countries of the developing world, which makes the work of organizations trying to help girls more difficult. But it is still a shameful topic even in the Western world and it doesn’t attract many entrepreneurs and innovators to think about how to tackle the problems surrounding it.
This doesn’t apply to entrepreneurs Miki Agrawal, her twin sister Radha, and friend Antonia who are committed to “eliminate shame, empowering women and girls around the world.” The three women are co-founders of THINX and are producing a new type of underwear to replace pantyliners, serve as backup for tampons and pads, or to completely replace them on lighter period days.
The panties, made in a family-run factory in Sri Lanka, have four different layers that make them anti-microbial, absorbent, leak-resistant, and provide a dry feeling for the wearer. The undies are washable (rinse them first and put them in the washing machine) and good for two years use, according to the makers. The most “heavy-duty” style — the hiphugger — can absorb the equivalent of two tampons.
THINX works with AFRIpads, a social business based in Uganda that manufactures and sells cost-effective cloth sanitary pads. For every pair of THINX that a customer buys (for a price between $24 and $34) the company sends funds to AFRIpads, enough to produce seven reusable pads and to provide one woman in Uganda the supply she needs.
THINX is one of few alternatives to the use of environmentally unfriendly tampons and pads. Another, some may argue, even better product in this category, is the menstrual cup — a reusable silicone cup that is economical, eco-friendly, and, according to users, more comfortable than a tampon.
Agrawal, a serial entrepreneur, does not shy away from the daily inconveniences other natural bodily functions cause as well. Her latest venture is called Tushy and can turn any toilet into a bidet that gives cleaner tushes for everyone and reduces the use of toilet paper.