Climate change isn’t simply a buzzword, it is our present reality and disposable menstrual tools used by millions of women around the world have raised questions on eco-friendlier alternatives. Eco Options, a social enterprise that was founded by Nagasha Jemimah Nyakato and Olivia Winter Karungi seeks to address these climate change concerns and revolutionize menstrual care in Uganda. They aim to change attitudes and improve lives through providing innovative sustainable menstrual options for all people regardless of their income. Eco options uses the power of business to tackle social and environmental challenges resulting from period poverty in Uganda.
How would you describe yourselves?
JEMIMAH: I’m Nagasha Jemimah Nyakato, a feminist, civil engineer and front end developer that is passionate about all things women. Our rights, health, and wellbeing.
WINTER: I’m Olivia Winter Karungi, a feminist, civil engineer that is passionate about women’s rights and health.
What inspired you to start Eco-options?
The period poverty in the country. Women in Uganda don’t have access to sanitary products so they end up improvising in order to go through the menstruation period. This leads to infections and discomfort during these days.
With 41% of the people in Uganda living below the poverty line, many people don’t have money to afford the menstrual products on the market.
We started Eco Options to unburden women, especially those in Uganda, of the financial burden of menstruating. With a menstrual cup at 50,000ugx that can last for upto 10 years, one spends only 5,000ugx a year. We wanted to try and make menstruation affordable, environmentally friendly and comfortable for all women that menstruate.
How has it been for you so far running Eco Options? Any challenges and how are you navigating them?
It has been a ride! Of course, every business has its ups and downs. One of our challenges is cash flow, having a start-up in Uganda is hard, and being a young woman makes it harder. It’s hard to get access to funds to grow our reach. We basically use our savings for the business because this is a cause we believe in.
Very many people are skeptical about using our products because they are new in the country. We try to educate our clients through social media.
Navigating religious and cultural beliefs surrounding the use of cups and discs is also hard. Because they are inserted inside the vagina, many people have reservations. We try to educate the people as we best can or advise them to use our alternative products
What is the one thing you wish you knew before becoming an entrepreneur?
Business needs patience. Navigating the business world needs patience and resilience. You have to believe in yourself even when things are moving very slowly and you feel like giving up. The good thing is that we can bounce ideas off each other. And we’re always picking each other up when things are hard.
A lot of Ugandan women are still skeptical about using menstrual cups and other eco-options. What do you think can be done to address this?
Building trust is very important. This takes time, but the rewards are worth it. We have spent a year engaging our audience and relentlessly educating them about menstrual cups. We have ensured that we follow up with our customers for at least three cycles while using our cups to ensure that they grow comfortable with this. This has helped us to grow the number of menstrual cup users through recommendations.
We also try to engage people that these women trust. We hope to work with women in their different spheres to keep pushing this cause.
So, teach people, be patient with them and engage other women with influence.
You often donate menstrual hygiene tools. How are you able to do this without risking toppling the business?
Giving is important to us and we ensure it is factored into our finances. We have had one major campaign, that was for Kasese District because it was an urgent matter where women were being violated in exchange for pads. We donated 130 menstrual cups and worked with a grassroots NGO to help us identify the girls and also help us follow up. We also recently made a donation to Frauen Initiative Uganda of menstrual panties.
For the first campaign, we made a fundraising drive on our social media platforms, and lucky enough, we were able to raise the money. The second donation was solely from the business.
We also have a good bookkeeping system so we can assess our financial stand before we make a donation and ensure we can afford it.
What is the future of Eco Options ?
We will have more alternative menstrual products and our products will be accessible in other African countries. Menstruation in itself is hard enough. We hope to give women enough options that are affordable and comfortable. We also hope to get a charity arm of the business. We know our products are affordable but many women can’t afford them so we hope to reach as many women as possible.
There is still a lot of stigmas and tiptoeing on issues around menstruation in Uganda. What do you think the government and the community can do to tackle this?
There is a lot left to be desired when it comes to how people are taught about periods and which information is relayed. “Menstrual blood is not disgusting, it’s just blood.” This is something that almost half the population experiences and it is normal, not shameful.
The community and the education sector need to stop teaching about this as though it is something to be ashamed of. We also need the government to fulfill its promises.
Women deserve better and thus should be given better. We are not second class citizens.
We need people to be educated about menstrual health hygiene. It is a normal thing.
What future do you envision for menstrual hygiene management in Uganda? And what are the target areas you would love to see addressed?
We envision the discussion around menstrual hygiene management in Uganda to diversify beyond the conventional products available. We see women not being stuck with only pads but having a variety of options to choose from when it comes to menstruation. The financial burden of menstruating can not be over-emphasized. Let’s show Ugandan women that it is possible to actually not spend money on your period for the next decade with just one purchase!
We need menstrual hygiene products to be free. Women don’t choose to go through this. They need to be as comfortable as possible. Because we deal in a variety of menstrual products, we also hope to see taxes on our other products like the menstrual underwear and discs removed.
What is your personality really like? Any parts you leave at home to navigate the Ugandan business scene?
WINTER: I’m witty, happy, assertive, and loud. Sometimes I leave my loud and assertive parts at home. The business has also taught me patience and to know which battles I can fight.
JEMIMAH: I’m a bit introverted and sometimes too serious. I have been forced to be more outgoing and leave my comfort zone at home. Having a good product is not enough, you’ve got to sell and network.