Visionary Sovanvotey Hok is a self-proclaimed feminist and environmentalist – now she’s putting both of those virtues to work through Green Lady.
The innovative social enterprise provides Cambodian women with sanitary, environmentally-friendly, affordable menstrual products.
“We try to use only local grown cotton. The outer and inner fabric are both made from Khmer cotton and sewn by Cambodian women,” Sovanvotey, 24, said.
The infamous Sambok Chab Village dumpsite – filled faster than it’s scavenged – can be seen in the distance as she speaks to The Post.
Sovanvotey explains that Green Lady not only employs local housewives to sew menstrual pads, but has also prevented 1,200kg of plastic waste from being sent to dumpsites like the one nearby.
“We can’t avoid using polyurethane laminate for the bottom layer so women are sure that it won’t leak.
“As an environmentalist myself, I was determined to reduce my own plastic use as much as possible … I stopped using disposable pads myself two years ago” says Sovanvotey.
The inspiration for Green Lady lies in a 2016 trip to northern Thailand where Sovanvothey learned about Eco-femme – a low-cost sanitary pad producer from Tamil Nadu, India.
“The moment I saw those beautiful cloth pads, I could feel that they were made with lots of love and attention,” Sovanvothey recalled.
Her line of menstrual cups, pads and pouches can be used for up to three years with regular cleaning and care.
The small size retails for $5, medium costs $5 while the large size, meant for heavy-flow days or nighttime costs $7.
Already, Sovanvothey is well on her way to making affordable, environmentally friendly pads more readily available.
In the past two years, Green Lady has sold 1,850 washable pads and 18 menstrual cups in Cambodia and Vietnam – preventing women from using around 96,000 sanitary pads – many of which are produced with noxious and otherwise unpleasant materials, including bleach.
For now, they can be exclusively found at the Dai Khmer store near Phnom Penh’s Toul Tompoung area, where around 200 are sold each month.
She hopes to have Green Lady products in retail outlets nationwide soon and stores in Siem Reap and Kampot province have already reached out to her to make the dream into a reality.
Women use up to 36,000 disposable menstrual pads over the course of their lifetimes. Sovanvotey claims Greenlady products are not only good for the environment, but the natural fiber construction helps keep women healthy.
“I personally feel that I’m more healthy and free from allergies. My menstrual cycle is regularly predictable. I can say I feel much better than I was before,” she says.
“People use disposable pads these days … I once asked my mother what she used and she said she used a simple cloth and washed it in the river, then hung it to dry,” says Sovanvothey.
“It isn’t uncommon for women, particularly those in impoverished families, to forgo luxuries like pads in favour of things like shelter and food,” says NGO Rescue Task Force (RTF) Gary Becks.
Over the past decade, RTF has distributed more than 6,000 copies of educational booklet Growth and Changes to age appropriate girls in rural Cambodia.
During that time, Becks says that the need for education and affordable solutions for women on their periods has become painfully aware.
“I think that making the pads healthier and more affordable will go a long way towards shattering the taboo, the fact that they can be cleaned and last up to three years means that it’s value-added and more likely to be widely implemented,” Becks tells The Post.
Sovanvothey says the benefits are plentiful.
“It prevents our sensitive skin from coming into contact with unknown chemical components, it helps reduce waste, it’s economical in terms of spending. It also helps to promote local products and the livelihoods of women.”
Sovanvothey menstrual products don’t require high-end technology, but she still has to do research to come up with a business model that is sustainable for the environment and female communities.
“I like getting involved in social work and caring about the environment. I initiated this social enterprise to provide sustainable choices for women while knowing clearly that this product will help reduce plastic waste.
“My biggest motivation for the startup is my empathy for women as an advocate and feminist. Girls and women, not just in Asia but in other places, are told how to behave, to hide or to be ashamed of their own natural identity,” she says.
For more information the organisation can be contacted via Facebook (@Greenladycambodia) or their website (greenladycambodia.wixsite.com).