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From Scraps to Pads: The Story of Ella Pad

By Ayesha Binte Towhid

· Asia,Social Entrep,Environment,Women

The readymade garment industry has revolutionized the concept of female employment in Bangladesh over the past four decades. Of the four million laborers of this sector, around 80 % are women. While the garment sector has allowed many women from the less privileged backgrounds to have an option to step out of their homes and make significant contributions to the economy, a large number them are still held back by several limitations. Taboos surrounding their menstrual health is one of many obstacles which hinder their full participation in work life.

According to a 2014 National Hygiene Baseline Survey, 89% of the surveyed girls did not use sanitary pads in Bangladesh. Besides being forced to manage their periods with unhygienic products, they also face several food and physical restrictions during that time. As the right products and facilities that can help them during these days are unavailable, limited, or very expensive, women workers find it difficult to stay outside for long hours. Above that, taboos and stigmas force them into isolation. These issues have serious consequences on the reproductive health and mental wellbeing of women. The impact is very apparent in the garment industry as the majority of workers were women and most of them had to skip work during heavy flow days. The country loses an estimated 1600 million work hours every month.

This is where Ella Pad hopes to bring change to. Ella Pad provides a solution for female garment workers to manage their period in an easy and affordable way. Through this initiative, they are able to make their own sanitary products by using materials which are readily available around their work stations like scrap fabrics. The solution is innovative, easy to execute, and almost zero in cost. Diinsider spoke with Mr. Mamunur Rahman, the man behind the initiative.

A factory worker making Ella Pads

Photo by Ella Pads

As a student of Economics, Mamunur Rahman had the opportunity to visit different garment factories during his university years. There, he had the chance to look into the life of female workers and eventually understood their concerns. After graduating, he joined a reputed development organization as a gender expert. After gathering the relevant professional experience and academic knowledge, Mamunur decided to address this crucial challenge of maintaining menstrual hygiene for working women. He dedicated himself to finding a homegrown solution to this problem. After several attempts, Ella Pad started its journey in 2015.

Ella, short for Eco friendly Low cost Liquid Absorbent, is based on a strategy involving 3 W’s--produced by Women, managed by Women and used by Women. The Ella officials select garment factories which are aligned with their vision of providing a safe working atmosphere for female workers. At present, they are associated with 5 garment factories and have around 2,500 beneficiaries.

The factory appoints representatives who coordinate the initiative with Ella. Spare parts of fabrics which are appropriate for making sanitary pads are identified. The female workers are then trained to make the sanitary napkins. As they are already skilled in sewing and have access to the machines, this is an easy task for them and takes a short amount of time. The quality of the product is also guaranteed as it was tested and approved by the Bangladesh Atomic Commission. Along with the sanitary pads, low-cost reusable underwear are also made.

Fabric scraps are put inside to make the pads.

Photo by Ella Pad

The initiative is increasingly becoming popular in the garment sector as it satisfies the key stakeholders. Initially, the initiative ensures female menstrual hygiene. The products are easy to make and the workers are getting it free of cost. Secondly, the factory managements are also satisfied as lost work hours are reduced and a portion of the factory waste are reused for a good purpose.

“I am using Ella Pads from its inception. I am very satisfied with it as I can get them for free whereas sanitary products are highly priced in markets. Also, I can customize the product as per my need,” Yasmin Nahar, an employee of Esses Fashion shared.

While Ella pads directly address the need of female workers, male workers are not necessarily out of the picture. They can benefit from the cause too. If they are willing, they can make the pads for the women in their families.

The initiative has received accolades in Bangladesh and around the world. Mamunur Rahman was the recipient of the Hubert H. Humphrey Alumni Impact Award Winner and the British Council Alumni award. He plans to expand and reach out to many more women in need.

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