Lebanese Startup fighting period poverty

“I realized that my clothes would get stained and that I couldn’t go to university the next day,” El Halabi recounted. “This had never happened to me. It was very embarrassing and shameful.”
by Maysaa Ajjan

29 June 2020 | 19:00

Source: by Annahar

  • by Maysaa Ajjan
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 29 June 2020 | 19:00

This image shows Mounira El Halabi, cofounder and CEO of Jouna (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: When Mounira El Halabi, co-founder, and CEO of Joona startup, found herself alone in her dorms in Tripoli with no access to sanitary pads whatsoever (while she had her period), she felt shocked and ashamed.

“I realized that my clothes would get stained and that I couldn’t go to university the next day,” El Halabi recounted. “This had never happened to me. It was very embarrassing and shameful.”

El Halabi thought of all the girls and women living in underprivileged areas with no access to sanitary pads and it was then that she learned of the term ‘period poverty’. Being the founder of a beauty and wellness startup, she decided to do something about it. That was in May 2019.

It wasn’t until April 2020 that El Halabi, along with her co-founder Farah Khaled, got the chance to act on her wish. As their beauty platform, Joona was up and running, they set a budget that would allow them to distribute 100 “dignity kits” in poor areas in Beirut. Each dignity kit contained four months’ worth of pads, a sanitizer, handmade soap, chocolate, and a motivational card. “We wanted it to seem like a personal gift, and we were delighted to see that there were guys volunteering in helping us put these packages together,” said El Halabi.

It is worth noting that the price of sanitary pads has soared from 2,500 LL to almost 9,000 LL in the wake of the recent price inflation, a direct result of the country’s economic crisis compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

El Halabi and Khaled’s idea attracted a total investment of $5,500, spent over three batches: 500 kits distributed last May in Beirut, 700 kits distributed this month in Tripoli, and 300 kits to be soon distributed between Akkar and Tripoli. 

“We are targeting rural impoverished areas on purpose because the women and girls in these areas are more susceptible to period poverty,” El Halabi said. “We will also be holding culturally sensitive workshops where we will choose community representatives from these underprivileged communities.”

These community representatives, continued El Halabi,  will learn about the basics of menstrual hygiene, and how to prepare their own pads in case they don’t have the money to buy them. They will make sure to spread the knowledge in their neighborhoods.

When asked about the feedback of her friends and family, El Halabi replied that they were “very surprised” to learn about period poverty in the first place. “Is this even a thing?” one of her friends asked her. “That is why raising awareness on period poverty is as important as receiving the donations,” she said 

For the future, Joona aims to grow its social arm and become the top wellness brand in the Middle East. “We aim to help different women not just through donation but through teaching them to sustain themselves economically regarding their menstrual hygiene,” said El Halabi.

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Welcome to Annahar's "Startup City," a column designed to cover the hundreds of early-stage businesses in Beirut, and what they represent as to the talent and optimistic business plans of local young tech workers. Send your nominations to maysaa.alajjan@gmail.com

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