PC - Angelica Salele-Sefo
Entrepreneur and environmentalist Angelica Salele-Sefo.

31 March, 2018. Samoa – After learning that many women and girls in poverty don’t have access to sanitary pads and products in many areas of the world, Angelica Salele-Sefo set out to find out how something many women take for granted each month, negatively impacts the lives of others in major ways.

“I found out that in the African and Asian regions, this marginalization of poor women and girls has resulted in them missing work or school, isolated from society and confined to their homes for the duration of their periods, each month. “This made me wonder, how many women and girls in Samoa, and the Pacific, are suffering in silence because of this issue?” Angelica told Samoa Planet.

Angelica is the recent recipient of the UN Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge in the Plastic Waste category, and was awarded US$10,000 (SAT$25,399.81). She’ll also receive business and marketing training from global experts, and pitch to win an additional US$10,000 prize to bolster her business.

She said, “I’m going to use this prize money to set up a company which will produce and sell reusable sanitary pads made of natural fibres, that will help women and girls gain access to safe, affordable and environmentally friendly alternatives to toxic single-use disposable pads that are currently available on the market.”

“My business is really new. It started as an idea I had a few years ago after I learnt about women and girls in poverty not having access to sanitary pads and products to manage menstruation in many areas of the world.”

As to how to address this issue in the Pacific and Samoa specifically, Angelica said, “The problem here in the Pacific region is that we don’t have enough information or data to say exactly how many. And if there is data, it isn’t publicly available.”

“So after conducting a small research study of my own, interviewing women from various economic levels in Samoa, I discovered that there is indeed a gap. Many women are choosing to use rags or cloths because they simply cannot afford the products available in the Samoan market. How many women use rags and cloths, I don’t know yet.”

While some may cringe at the thought of re-usable sanitary products, there’s already a mainstream market for the products, which come in different patterns and absorbency levels. Their general appeal is that they’re cost effective, some say ‘more comfortable, and environmentally friendly.

This is a factor which Angelica values highly, explaining to Samoa Planet, “There’s also the environmental impact disposable pads have on our environment. Pacific islands are already faced with challenges in solid waste management, and we know we will be among the first nations to be impacted by climate change. Yet we continue to consume plastic in rates that are unsustainable because we don’t have many options available to us.

“It’s fine to recognise the problems, but if we don’t provide solutions or alternatives to fix those problems, people will just keep consuming and producing more and more plastic waste.”

Angelica’s concern for the environment was a key factor to her prize win as the UN Environment’s Director for the Asia-Pacific region, Dechen Tsering said, “Plastic waste is a blight on our planet and few know this better than those living in Pacific island nations. We are hunting for solutions to this problem, and Angelica’s innovation is an example of the type of ingenuity that helps move us forward.

“It’s fantastic to see that her venture also supports women and girls, who are too often marginalized despite their central role in protecting our planet.”