Women's Day in UAE: Meet the Emirati on a mission to solve period woes with sanitary pad vending machines

Many women had to go through embarrassing situations because they got their period unexpectedly — and this has to change, she says


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Sat 4 Mar 2023, 12:47 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Mar 2023, 10:26 PM

With Women’s Day around the corner, Khaleej Times is introducing more women who are breaking barriers, starting difficult conversations, and making a difference for thousands of people.

Make sanitary napkins accessible, affordable and convenient for women — that is the goal with which Emirati entrepreneur Alyazi Al Muhairi set up her business Coven. Established in August 2022, Coven tries to create spaces that are inclusive of women's menstrual health by providing safe and ultra-hygienic alternatives to feminine care.

“A woman’s journey is discounted,” said Alyazi. “There are so many instances where a woman has to cancel a meeting or plans because she unexpectedly got her period. If she is not carrying a pad, she has to step out of the office, rush to a supermarket or pharmacy and even hide it in her purse or wherever while she goes to the bathroom. Yet, majority of the bathrooms in offices and public places do not have a sanitary napkin dispenser.”

Working in policy-making for a government agency, Alyazi realised the lack of washroom equity between men and women and wanted to change that. It is to fill this gap that she and her friends set up Coven.

Why don’t offices provide sanitary napkins like they provide tissues or toilet paper?

“In my office, every woman would bring her own pads,” she said. “Once, we were out of pads because the cleaning lady took one. And that is when I started thinking, this is such a normal thing. Why don’t offices provide sanitary napkins like they provide tissues or toilet paper? There are so many women who are traumatised because they got their period unexpectedly and had to go through embarrassing situations because they didn’t have a pad readily available.”

99% women want pad vending machines: Poll

Functioning primarily as a B2B enterprise that aims to provide vending machines of sanitary napkins to offices and public places, Alyazi said she had faced a lot of resistance and challenges.

“We call offices and tell them that we will give them the vending machines at cost price or even free but we never hear back from them,” she admitted. “It is like people just do not want to acknowledge that women get periods or that they need pads.”

However, the team has seen tremendous response from businesses owned by women. “They are very responsive and on board with the idea,” she said. “We have noticed that when there are no women at the decision-making table, women’s needs are not considered. Whether it is periods rights or maternity leave or providing sanitary napkins.”

In a survey of over 500 women, the company found that 99 per cent of women would like a sanitary napkin vending machine in their common areas. However, Alyazi says the vending machines currently available in some toilets are inconvenient and cumbersome. “Firstly it uses only coins,” she said. “Who carries coins with them all the time? Also, those pads are of inferior quality and could result in a UTI or infections.”


Affordable, environment-friendly

According to Alyazi, a lot of thought went into designing the pads. “We wanted something that was of good quality, affordable and environment-friendly,” she said. Coven products use bamboo fibres in a bid to make the product more sustainable.

“Making cotton takes a lot of resources,” she said. “Processing it is also very taxing for the environment because of the fumes released. Bamboo, on the other hand, is a self-generating tree and using its fibres is better for the environment.”

The packaging of the product has been designed to keep it discrete. “A lot of women feel embarrassed to take a pad out of their bag and walk to the bathroom with it,” said Alyazi. “So, we made the packaging to make it look discrete. In fact, I have tested it in many social settings to see if men can understand what it is. They mostly think it is a face mask.”

Alyazi says the team has worked very hard to design a high-quality product at low cost. “Our pads are tested in the lab to make sure they are hypoallergenic,” she said. “Also, we wanted them to be more readily available and at very low costs. No one ever even thinks of the fact that women of lower income cannot afford to buy pads. It is never discussed.”

The company has also donated thousands of sanitary napkins to women’s labor camps and at events to ensure that they reach those who need the most.


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