» Archive for: February, 2016

By Ruben Korevaar, Business Development Manager at Simavi

How social and technological innovation support menstrual hygiene management and women empowerment

menstrual hygiene, Uganda, civic innovation

Micro entrepreneur promoting MHM in Uganda (image: Mona van den Berg)

Increasingly women participate in economic life, generate income and are an important driver for economic development. Girls’ school enrollment is increasing and in many countries more girls pass secondary school certificate than boys. More than ever we have access to various sources of information. However, millions of women and girls still lack information on menstrual hygiene, and lack access to hygienic and affordable solutions to manage their menstruation. In many countries girls and women are being excluded from public life – like going to school or work – because they are having their period. How can social change and technological innovation contribute to turn the tide?

Social constraints for women’s socio-economic participation

We give periods many names like “Aunt Flo,” “time of the month,” “crimson wave” or a number of other weird euphemisms that only serve to mystify and hide the process that women go through every month. Menstruation is a natural and essential part of the reproductive cycle. However, in many parts of the world it remains a taboo that is rarely talked about. These taboos and social norms restrict the participation of women and girls in society during menstruation. In addition, limited access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities and sanitary napkins make it difficult for women to manage their menstruation hygienically. As a result, many (young) women around the world face considerable physical and social challenges during their menstruation period.

Menstruation is a cross-cutting issue that relates to several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), e.g. SDG 3-6. While menstruation issues and menstrual hygiene management have recently gained attention in the global development agenda, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is not specifically mentioned as such in the SDGs.

Social change

Development organisations like Simavi believe that solutions for menstruation issues are vital in empowering women and ensuring basic health conditions. Approaches include:

  • Creating awareness on sexuality, reproductive cycle and menstrual hygiene among girls, women and men in order to empower women to take care of themselves during their menstruation, self-develop and live a healthy life.
  • Creating a supportive environment, in which menstruation is socially accepted and women are not excluded or discriminated because of their monthly periods.
  • Improving access to services, such as sanitary pads and sexual, reproductive health services, as well as sanitation facilities and clean water.

Where NGOs are well-rooted in society and have access to especially the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), the private sector is a driving force in producing MHM solutions like pads, tampons or menstruation cups. Therefore, a multisector collaboration in addressing menstruation is needed to accelerate change and increase impact.

Innovations to reduce the environmental burden of waste

While promoting MHM and creating access to modern methods, we do not want to create more plastic waste. The average woman uses up to 11,000 pads or tampons during her lifetime. Imagine what this means with regard to the amount of waste in a country like Bangladesh where about 40 million women/girls menstruate.

The role of the private sector is important in looking for innovations and developing environmental friendly alternatives. For example Simavi, together with TNO and a private partner in Bangladesh, is developing and producing biodegradable sanitary napkins. The involvement of the private sector is crucial to ensure supplies can actually be provided in a cost-efficient way and at scale. Looking at sustainability, NGOs can encourage sanitary producers to consider environmental friendly solutions that are also reaching girls and women who have limited resources to spend.

By facilitating social change, working together with the private sector and encouraging technological innovations, NGOs contribute to ensure that all girls and women have comprehensive knowledge of menstrual hygiene, appropriate methods to manage their cycle and are in the position to do so.

I am looking forward to discuss these ideas about technological innovation on this blog and during the ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation on March 7, 2016!

By Clarisa Perullini & Luciana Comes, Maggacup, Argentina

In our presentation in the next session of the Dialogues on Civic Innovation research on 7 March 2016, we will be looking at the question: How the use of a new menstrual technology can produce social and environmental impacts?

Creating a new feminine habit through technological innovation Maggacup

The inception of the menstrual cup brings a disruption to a standing dominant behavioral pattern that has been imposed by market forces to women, which promotes the idea of consuming disposable products and rapidly getting rid of the ‘annoying issue’ of menstruation by simply wrapping it, absorbing it and throwing it to the garbage. Leaving the consequences of the disposability to another stakeholder: the environment.

With the cup, a woman has the possibility to alleviate the environmental impact caused by this way of managing menstruation and become part of the solution. The cup brings her the possibility to be in charge of the disposal of her own menstrual fluid. By being reusable, the cup offers a simple way to reduce the production of waste: the cup lasts for 5 years with the proper care, and costs the same as the average woman will spend on disposable sanitary protection in ten months.

What Cíclica does is helping women to navigate this change of paradigm, by promoting new interpretations and ways of managing the menstrual cycle.

New Caring Paradigm

“When we love, we care; and when we care, we love”

“Caring is the key category of the new paradigm of civilization that is struggling to emerge all over the world. Caring serves both to prevent future damage and to repair past damage”

Leonardo Boff

We promote three main levels of care that can trigger social and environmental change:

  1. Caring towards each person, encompasses care about the body, the mind and the spirit.

Caring about the body, implies self-care. Developing a better self-esteem and self-knowledge. How to maximize women’s optimal times in the menstrual cycle. The non-toxic and hypoallergenic silicone cup protects the body by inhibiting health risks.

Caring about the mind: this is a technology that promotes well-being and generates self-awareness. It helps re-telling the narratives about menstruation, replacing the rejection and embarrassment for acceptance and respect.

Caring about the spirit: we see the connection to the menstrual cycle as something sacred, not as something dirty or a waste, rather as something that strengthens and connects all women with life.

  1. Caring about the community

We are a B Corporation, whose motto is “to be the best FOR the world” and not “the best OF the world”.

We provide different kinds of trainings in order to create value and awareness of the importance of menstruation and its impact on health, education, the environment and the economy.

  1. Care about the environment

Besides reducing plastic waste production, in what has to do with the manufacture of the menstrual cups, no trees are cut or used. Plus none of our activities include animal testing.

With our sales we have already achieved to preserve (until February 2016) 14,000 m2 of the Misiones jungle with the help of the Forest Bank foundation. This is possible due to our commitment to make a donation to this foundation for each Maggacup that is purchased.

What Maggacup promotes

Maggacup offers workshops and programs to different sectors of our society: entrepreneurs’ festivals, cooperatives and educative institutions. To briefly name and explain a few:

The Heritage Love Cycle is a workshop about the menstrual cycle and its role in the construction of the feminine identity within the family system in a transgenerational level.

The “Blood life. Wisdom of Humanity” Where menstruation is explored from different artistic manifestations.

menstruation, menstrual technologies, civic innovation, India, protest

Learning that ‘Menstruation is not an illness’ (picture from a protest in Kolkata, India)

Menstru-action A program for students about sexual, reproductive and sustainable health.

Women’s Empowerment Program It is a strategy which is presented to the community through arts, communications and business tools.

We are developing the “Cíclica Observatory” on which we are making agreements with local universities to build and systematize knowledge about the experiences of women concerning a dignified management of menstrual health.

We are looking forward to discussing these ways to promote civic innovation through menstrual technology with you during the ISS Dialogue on 7 March!

Latest CIRI Working Paper on ‘Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development’ now available

We are pleased to provide an update on the CIRI Working Paper series. The fifth working paper, by Bert Helmsing, Peter Knorringa and Daniel Gomez Gonzalez on ‘Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development’, was published in December 2015 and is available here.

Please find below a list with links to the other papers in the series.

CIRI Working Paper update

Publish your Civic Innovation Research in the CIRI Working Paper Series!

We would like to re-issue our call for proposals for papers to be published in this series.

The CIRI Working Paper series is part of the well-known ISS Working Paper series. It is intended to make research papers available to an audience both within and outside the ISS, with the purpose of inviting comments and provoking discussion. For papers yet to be submitted for publication, this discussion might assist in developing the paper into an improved final manuscript.

We welcome submissions that fall within the broad scope of the Civic Innovation Research Initiative, i.e. exploring how organizations and individuals mobilize to change their societies. We particularly welcome submissions that treat the methodological challenges of conducting research in this area, i.e. inter-cultural dialogues, engaged research, activist research, participatory research, actor self-reflexivity, and multi-stakeholder encounters and exchanges.

We also encourage submissions of non-academic writings such as in-depth interviews and conversations with ‘civic innovators’ and dialogues on ‘innovative’ ideas related to the CIRI research agenda.

For more information, including the author guidelines and the paper template, contact the editor Sylvia I. Bergh at bergh@iss.nl


Have a look at the CIRI Working PapersCIRI-logo-RGB

CIRI Working Paper No. 1: A.H.J. Helmsing (Bert): Analyzing Local Institutional Change: Comparing small farmer participation in high value export chains in Uganda and Peru (September 2013)

CIRI Working Paper No. 2: A.A. Corradi (Ariane Agnes): The building blocks of a resource-based theory of business start-ups: A mixed methods approach to investigate the interaction between markets, institutions, and entrepreneurial learning (March 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 3: A.F. Fowler (Alan): Innovation in institutional collaboration: The role of interlocutors (April 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 4: K.A. Siegmann (Karin Astrid), J. Merk (Jeroen)1 and P. Knorringa (Peter): Voluntary initiatives in global value chains: Towards labour-led social upgrading? (May 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 5: A.H.J. Helmsing (Bert), P. Knorringa (Peter) and D. Gomez Gonzalez (Daniel): Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development: Defying existing micro and macro characterizations (December 2015)

One of my most successful strategies of translating feminist visions into economic policy is simply doing it without spending too many words on the why I do this. I am a feminist. And an economist, scholar, critical thinker, activist, lobbyist, teacher, writer, mother, partner, daughter, sister, rower, reader, home-owner, board member, and learning to become a very basic level drummer. That’s enough words on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of me. Let me explain rather the ‘how’. How I translate my feminism, connected with or disconnected from my other identities, through my economics, in teaching, lobbying, advocacy, and non-academic writing.

First, I will publish an economics book on the very day that we will have this seminar about feminist visions for economic policy, on the 15th of February at the ISS. In Dutch (sorry). I have opted to write an accessible book for a general public, including policy makers and students and fellow economists, because I am frustrated by the lack of depth and width in economic policy debates. As if there is not a rich history of economic thought from Adam Smith to Amartya Sen.


As if we have to learn time and time again to prevent crises and to get out of them from scratch. As if Marx was only a revolutionary whose ideas have been proven wrong by the fall of the Berlin wall. As if Adam Smith was really the father of neoliberalism. As if Keynes can be reduced to overspending governments. I am angry about such a violation of the history of economic thought. This reductionism seems a strategy to prevent students of economics to learn about other theories than the mainstream, to learn about qualitative methods in economic research, and to learn about the ethical foundations of various economic theories (yes, also utilitarianism as the ethics on which neoclassical economics is founded). To provide a tiny little bit of a balance to this bias, I have decided to explain the basic lessons we could have learned to prevent the 2008 financial crisis, in ten chapters, each dedicated to an innovative insight by a key economist. My book includes two female economists. And it discusses feminist themes of equality, diversity, and caring in the chapters on male economists who dared to talk about these issues. Such as Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (not read by economists), and John Maynard Keynes who wrote about gender equality, and Gunnar Myrdal who explained the persistence of the discrimination of blacks in the US economy in the 1940s. I have not labelled a single chapter “feminist”. But I have written one chapter on a founding mother of feminist economics, Barbara Bergmann, explaining the importance of her work.

lagardeSecond, I have analyzed the Lehman Sisters Hypothesis, put forward by high-level women such as Christine Lagarde and Neelie Kroes, right after the crisis. I found that there is a grain of truth in it, both on the ground of gender differences in the average financial behavior of men and women and, more sensitive in feminist debates, because of biological differences that mediate the behavioral patterns. For example by discussing research on testosterone, cortisol and oxytocine and their two-way relationship with economic variables (including the German Bond rate!) and economic behavior (in particular risk taking and stress-resilience). That research has resulted in invitations as keynote speaker at interesting events. Such as the OECD Head Quarter in Paris, in a seminar series attended by OECD ambassadors or their deputies and OECD staff. And an invitation to Reykjavik, where a female banker whose investment fund was the only one that did not go bankrupt in Iceland in 2008, had organized a conference in order to get the lessons from Lehman Sisters out to an audience of business people, women and men. That was a very inspiring event, where business leaders, from the CEOs of banks to CEOs of global fish exporters, were eager to learn about balancing biased male behavior in finance jobs and leadership positions. And where actress Geena Davis made an insightful and sometimes hilarious speech about her own experiences with gender biases in the film industry.

davisThird, I have done a survey among Dutch bankers on banking culture. My key finding is that the average bank employee is client-oriented but banking culture is not. They do value caring, but their bosses care more for profit. They are generally service-oriented, but the bank leadership focuses on shareholders. To my own surprise many ordinary bankers agree with these findings. And they ask me to train them on how to understand the dominant banking culture and how they can make a contribution to make it more caring. I have done several trainings now with small groups of bankers. One such training took four hours with 22 Amsterdam-based investment bankers (20 male, 2 female). After having explained the ethics of care and how it differs from both utilitarianism and deontology (a rights-perspective), I handed out big sheets of paper and color pencils. I asked them to make a color drawing to illustrate what these ethical approaches mean to them in their daily work. This resulted not only in very creative and sometimes also very funny drawings. But it also led to extremely interesting discussions among the bankers themselves, talking for the first time in their lives about the meaning of serving clients. The same bank has now asked me to repeat the training for another group and not in four hours but in eight hours. I should get canvass and oil paint.sheila e

In conclusion, for me, feminist economics is about doing it, showing how diversity, equality, and caring matter for economic life, and pointing out how policy makers, business people, and others can “do it” as well, integrating these three key feminist themes in their policies and activities. Without having to go through debates about feminism. Remember that economists value efficiency: we like to get straight to the point of ‘how’. Simply doing it, not talking about it. Like my heroine Sheila E on her drumset (for this link you really need to switch on the sound of your device and put it at the max!).

Wendy Harcourt & Saskia Vossenberg


The next session of our Dialogues on Civic Innovation research on 15 February 2016 will be looking at: How do we translate feminist visions on the economy into viable options for action and policy influencing? What openings do we see and what feminist dilemmas do we face when negotiating and debating new forms of economic life and what strategies do we use to counter these?

In an interactive form of dialogue – a fishbowl conversation – we will reflect on these questions by putting the feminist dilemmas and innovative practices of ‘interlocutors’ in the spotlight. These women and men working from a gender lens at the interface of the market and government, actively influencing their economic policy debates, agendas and instruments will begin the conversation and then we will invite the audience to join.

In bringing people from the academe, civil society and government together, we aim to create an open space for scholars, policy makers, activists, development practitioners, students and lobbyists to share in and reflect on our diverse efforts to aim for different and more gender just economic policy and pathways in the Netherlands and beyond.

We would like to open up the conversation by asking four questions that will guide the fishbowl conversation:

Why? What ‘feminist principles’ are important to you and what are the ‘gender just economic alternatives’ that you aim for?

Where? In what spaces, with what audiences, do you try to create openings, debate or negotiate for new forms of economic life?

How? Which activities and strategies do you use?

What? What dilemma’s do you encounter and what innovative practices do you use to counter these?

International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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