Reusable women’s menstrual products have been available in Cambodia since Sovanvotey Hok launched Green Lady Cambodia. The products are hygienic, environmentally friendly and save women money.
As part of her social enterprise, she has taught many women to sew the pads, and educated many of them about their menstrual cycle. She has the dream of seeing sewing the menstrual products included into the state curriculum. She believes educating students from generation to generation about alternatives for menstruation would be a useful life skill they could use.
Recalling her inspiration for the products, Sovanvotey said it was initially because she herself had an allergy to sanitary pads.
The environmental entrepreneur, who has studied communications and English, told The Post: “At that time, I had no choice but to use sanitary pads. While I was studying in Thailand at the end of 2016, I heard about a recyclable product from India. Once I used them, I knew that I wanted to share the idea in Cambodia.”
She explained that the products were easy to use, good for the wearers’ health and saved a lot of money. Each one can be used for three to five years.
She added that they have a layer of waterproof fabric so there is no possibility of staining the wearers’ clothes.
“It benefits both your health and your bank balance, especially for people with allergies, like me, or those who want to change their habits and protect the environment. Sanitary pads are not designed to be worn for more than three or four hours, but ours can be worn for longer. They are better for vaginal health too,” said the 27-year-old.
Sovanvotey said that when she first started the project, she wanted to focus on the menstrual cycle, but over time that has grown into sexual and reproductive health issues.
Currently, she is collaborating with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA Cambodia) on training and also working with other organisations to create packages and provide training sessions in remote provinces.
She said she has a low cost package for organisations that want to distribute reusable menstrual products or raise awareness of menstrual hygiene. She also taught women how to sew their own products. This is designed to create an alternative to distributing sanitary pads.
“In Ratanakkiri province, I work with the UNFPA and with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, and in Kampot and Preah Sihanouk provinces we run regular social packages,” she said.
She said that introducing a class where girls could sew their own reusable products into the national curriculum made perfect sense to her, and the UNFPA agreed.
“We have already worked together and invited the education ministry to join us. We teach these classes at many schools already, so we have asked the ministry to integrate it. If they agree, we may be able to include it in the curriculum. Of course, we know it will take time,” she said.
She wrote a book about her experiences teaching which included information about puberty and how women’s bodies work.
“I take feedback from students after I teach them – how they are feeling and what else they would like to learn about. I believe this is helping me to improve my classes. In the future, I would like to introduce information about family planning,” she said.
According to Sovanvotey, the results of her classes are usually good, with lots of interest and participation from both boys and girls. She mostly goes to Rattanakkiri province and other remote areas.
She said the classes are very beneficial to students, especially in impoverished areas. All women had to purchase sanitary products, so sewing reusable ones saved money, as well as being great for her health.
She highlighted the importance of teaching children about these issues.
“First of all, I want them to know that they have different choices. Second, shyness greatly affects their health. I think every single human knows that sex and reproductive health are important, so we need to dare to open our hearts and listen to one another. I think my work will continue until children feel like they can comfortably ask questions and understand their own bodies better,” she said.
In an interview with the UNFPA, Tith Vira, principal of Buthong O’Chum High School in O’Chum village and commune of Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district, thanked them for the training.
“It was great that UNFPA provided teachers who educated female students about reproductive health issues and sexual health. These are important things, and what the community wants for its young women,” said Vira.
“The course I am most interested in is on how to make reusable menstrual products, because right now we all spend a lot of money on sanitary pads. If we learn to make our own, it would be great. They last for years, and if you share them with others, even more money is being saved,” said one student.
Sovanvotey said that awareness of the reusable pads was growing.
She had even begun distributing cottonseed so people could produce their own.
In addition, she has partnered with Stoptheshameperiod.com, which wants to produce biodegradable pads that can be distributed to girls in remote areas who do not have access to clean water.
“I am proud that they are brave and care about the community. They are courageous to speak up in the context of a society where women are traditionally shy. I just want to tell young girls and women that they have choices and that they should understand that,” she added.