SARTELL, MN — Since 2018, WHO has been shifting focus to self-care intervention methods as a means of promoting reproductive health. These preventions address health issues before they occur. WHO estimates that there could be almost a 13 million healthcare worker shortage by 2035. If this is the case, already underserved populations will lack essential medical services. Especially for women, reproductive self-care and body literacy will be essential for long term health and empowerment. The company Be Girl destigmatizes periods and promotes women’s health.
Based in Mozambique, Be Girl is a company that produces and dispenses reusable menstrual hygiene products and educational tools globally. Be Girl’s products empower communities by reducing the stigma of menstruation and alleviating dependency on health workers and disposable menstrual supplies. Over the past six years, Be Girl has distributed more than 55,000 products to women in more than 30 different countries.
Founding Be Girl
Be Girl’s journey began in 2012 when Diana Sierra, the company’s founder and CEO, went on a research trip in Uganda. As she worked in schools, women’s groups and families, Sierra became aware of a lack of access to menstrual sanitary products and the repercussions of period poverty. The girls and women Sierra met had been using strips of rags and cloth stuffed into their underwear to absorb their menstrual blood; some didn’t even have underwear to begin with. The moisture and duration for which the rags would be worn put menstruators at a greater risk for UTIs. Furthermore, the fear of leaking and having their periods identified kept many from work and school.
Using her expertise as an industrial designer, Sierra used a mosquito net and umbrella cloth to create the first prototype of Be Girl’s PeriodPanty. After subsequent pilots and feedback from hundreds of girls in four different countries, the original materials were swapped for industrial-grade cloths. The underwear became a reusable accessory distributed around the world today.
In a recent interview with The Borgen Project, Sierra shared, “It’s extremely important that you don’t impose things, that you learn from what people do. We always make the emphasis [that]the product is customizable; it’s made for you. The insert? It’s up to you. You can use pieces of recycled cloth, you can use cotton from the garden. It’s about telling people that probably have limited resources: you’re limitless. You can just transform anything into a sanitary pad.”
Functional and Fashionable
The apparel’s ingenuity lies in its user-friendliness. Lasting a wearer for at least two years, the PeriodPanty packaging instructs wearers to insert whatever absorbent materials are available to them to fill the pocket between the mesh and leak-proof bottom.
The PeriodPanty is not only functional but it’s also fashionable. The bold royal blue briefs are detailed with brightly colored lace. Sierra explained the significance of the product aesthetic. “It’s so important that products are beautiful because if you have always been told that periods are bad and wrong and dirty, and suddenly you receive a beautiful product that changes all that narrative and makes you feel proud. It makes you feel beautiful.”
SmartCycles: Body Literacy Combats Period Myths
Every society has its own period myths, ranging from trivial old-wives’ tales to damaging and dangerous stigmas. In Colombia, for example, it is widely believed that if a woman who is menstruating touches a plant, the plant will wither and die. Meanwhile, girls in Nepal are isolated from their families and put into unsanitary huts for the duration of their menses.
“The only way to really address this [period myths]is with education; making sure that periods are not a problem to begin with,” Sierra explained. Recently, Be Girl launched its new campaign for menstrual and body literacy with its revolutionary SmartCycle.
SmartCycles are a simple menstrual calendar in the shape of a disc. On the front of the discs are the numbers 1 through 28, like a clock face. On the back are symbols that correspond to the cycle numbers, representing the different phases of an average 28-day menstrual cycle. Every day, a user turns the dial on the calendar-face, tracking their menstrual cycle. Sierra described the SmartCycle as, “even more revolutionary than the panties themselves- it’s access to knowledge.”
SmartCycle Workshops: Inclusive and Impactful
SmartCycles can be worn as a necklace, and are distributed through Be Girl’s educational workshops. Workshops employ local professionals and undergraduate students who are carefully trained to disseminate accurate information about the menstrual cycle. Acting as both peers and role models, workshop leaders create a fun and safe environment for both girls and boys.
The impact of these workshops is encouraging. Pre-and post-workshop surveys demonstrate that through education, twice as many girls could explain ovulation and menses, and three times as many boys could identify ovulation. Sierra recounted, “In a 40-minute workshop, you can see their change and how they perceive things… That knowledge stays and can be a life-changing event for them. [It] will give them a better chance to make better-informed decisions about their future.”
The Future of Be Girl is Its Message
Within its line of reusable menstrual products and educational SmartCycles is Be Girl’s mission to reframe the narrative of periods. Be Girl destigmatizes periods. Its products make users feel proud to be girls. Looking to the future, Sierra shared, “Every woman and girl should be comfortable in their body. Every woman and girl deserves to access opportunities, not because of gender, but because of their merits. Be Girl is not about the products, it’s about the message [of]rebranding periods as something to love.”
– Tricia Lim Castro