For thousands of young women, the ability to purchase a basic necessity – such as sanitary towels – is a financial impossibility. The impact of such a seemingly minor inconvenience can have devastating results on the individual’s dignity, as well as long-term educational setbacks that can, ultimately, change the trajectory of the young woman’s future.
“The reality is that, for so many women, both locally and globally, not being able to buy sanitary products means that for a week every month, daily activities are restricted,” explained Sue Barnes, founder of Subz Pants and Pads and the non-profit extension, Project Dignity. “For women of school-going age, that means missing out on a week of schooling every single month. This is classroom time that cannot be caught up, and the compounding effect is that these young women are unable to complete high school, putting them at a massive disadvantage for the rest of their lives.”
Barnes, a KwaZulu-Natal resident with a background in food technology and fashion design, became aware of this problem seven years ago when her youngest daughter returned home from school with a letter requesting sanitary towels.
“My daughter’s school ran an afternoon programme which offered educational assistance for children of another local school but they were concerned that a number of pupils were missing the programme,” recalled Barnes. “When they investigated, they discovered that girls were missing the programme the week they were menstruating because they didn’t have access to sanitary pads. This concerned me enormously. Having two girls myself – both of whom are dyslexic – I realised how detrimental it would be if they had to miss that much school. I decided I had to offer a sustainable solution to the problem.”
For Barnes, sustainability was key as it brought with it both economical and environmental advantages that disposable sanitary products did not. Taking her knowledge of fabrics from years in the fashion industry, Barnes designed the Subz Pants and Pads which is a reusable sanitary towel that clips onto a cotton panty. With the assistance of her husband, Mike, through his company, Mallards Boating, Barnes was able to produce the prototype and test it out.
Essentially, the Subz pads are made of two layers of hydrophilic fabric, one layer of hydrophobic fabric and 1 layer of plastic barrier which makes them extremely absorbent to prevent leakage. Together with the 100% cotton panties, they are patented and have an SABS absorbency approval. Packs are made up of between three and nine Subz Pants and Pads which, if cared for correctly, can last the user up to five years. Ideally, young women entering Grade 8 will receive one pack that should see them through their high school career.
Once the product had been perfected, Barnes went about sourcing sponsors for the packs with hopes of getting them distributed to as many young women in disadvantaged communities as possible. The donations are accompanied by an educational programme run by Project Dignity, the non-profit arm of Subz which has been operational since 2014. A number of companies have assisted in sponsoring and donations the past seven years, among them Hirsch’s Homestore, Sibiya Community Trust and Clicks Helping Hands Trust. Through its Helping Hands Trust initiative, Clicks is now stocking the Subz pad – a reusable self-clasping sanitary towel – at 280 Clicks stores. These are available for personal purchase as well as donation to needy recipients.
Barnes said there have been so many meaningful moments from visiting the schools and donating the Subz pads over the past seven years.
“At the recent Sustainable Living Expo in Durban, a young lady came up to me to thank me for the Subz pads she had received three years back,” recalled Barnes. “She explained that this donation had allowed her to finish school and she was currently studying to be a paramedic. It’s just so fantastic to know the difference we are making.”
To date, Project Dignity has donated more than 80 000 Subz packs to schools within South Africa and across the border with the assistance of generous donors. As long as there are regular contributions, Project Dignity will continue to meet the needs of young women in disadvantaged communities.
“One of our biggest challenges is resistance from schools who are unaware of the work that we do,” said Barnes. “We hope to eventually set up a formalised programme that would allow us to work routinely, targeting the necessary areas for donation while working with other non-profit organisations within education. It would also be wonderful if businesses could adopt a school and fund the Subz pads, allowing us to donate packs to the new Grade 8s coming through annually.”
If you’re willing to assist with sponsorship of Subz packs or would like to find out more, contact Brenda@subzpads.co.za or visit www.subzpads.co.za