Palawan, The Human Experience | Sanitation

In collaboration with Modibodi, VOX POPULI deliver innovative sanitary products to the women and girls of remote Palawan.

Of the 7 billion people on our planet, one third are still without adequate sanitation. This is magnified by an estimated 2 billion women menstruating each month. In one hand, we have Western nations, amplifying environmental pressures by relying on the often synthetic tampon and pad market. In the other, we have developing regions without access to the plethora of these single-use products, yet facing a range of their own social and health related challenges. Across history, strategies for managing this (often messy) blessing have been tried and tested. Today, it is important that the answer encapsulates not only effectivity, but addresses the global need for sustainability.

Recently launched are some of the most innovative, empowering and ecologically aware solutions, and often they are inspired by past methods. Regardless of where in the world you live right now, to resolve the social and environmental challenges associated with periods, the stigma attached to this remarkable feminine process requires simultaneous evolvement across all cultures. This starts with education for women (and men), followed by access to resources that facilitate empowerment.

On our most recent expedition through the Palawan region, we were eager to connect with local villages, to understand their immediate limitations and to devise a way to exchange a value, whilst in return the communities hosted us with arms wide open. After researching the common methods used by women in isolated, less developed regions of the Philippines, it was discovered that washable rags are often the only option. Although this presents as a more sustainable alternative to the majority of Western contraptions, it frequently restricts freedom and alters behaviour due to a lack of confidence in the methods' effectivity. This has been proven to impact school performance and effect workplace attendance, with a large portion of teenage girls dropping out of school during puberty. In a world where we are capable of building holograms of Tupac, it didn't make sense to us that others were unable to meet their basic needs due to a fundamental bodily process.

We began devising a plan to deliver the appropriate solution to some of the most remote villages in the Palawan islands. We soon met the team behind Modibodi. We were immediately inspired by their products, the mission behind them and their eagerness to be involved.

Modibodi is an Australian brand whose products are designed to alleviate the monthly obstacles faced by women. The company aims to replace disposable hygiene products with their stylish, purpose-designed underwear. When the VOX POPULI team discovered the ingenious undergarments, the desirability for Australian women was obvious, yet enormous potential was identified for such products to be available in remote, developing regions. Due to the patented Modifier Technology, the discrete underwear can hold up to two tampons worth of flow, with the comfort and security of an odour resistant, leak-proof design. Additional perks also arise from the ability to say good bye to single-use sanitary products, which can be expensive, toxic for the body and destructive to our environment. Especially in undeveloped regions where plumbing and waste management systems are virtually non-existent.

We had the pleasure of delivering fifty pairs of Modibodi underwear, generously donated by the organisation, to the Tao main village. In addition to this, we ran an information session for the ladies who are skilled in massage, sewing and small business endeavours, to explore their current needs and limitations, whilst sharing information about optimal hygiene practices. Products were also shared with their excited school age daughters, who are at a critical stage, where it is imperative to reduce barriers to education. Our communication will continue to be open and explorative with the ladies, who we look forward to gaining feedback from, regarding the uptake of the products. We are excited to adapt and respond adequately with the local women, as it is most important to us that sustainable solutions are created mutually and not imposed.

Click here for information on Modibodi and to purchase the gorgeous, liberating garments.

Thank you to Tao Kalahi Foundation & Tao Expeditions for having us, to Modibodi for contributing the resources and muchas gracias to Jes (@yezeka), our photographer and landscape architect in the making.

This initiative is an example of a series of VOX POPULI global collaborations. You are now invited to apply for our next VOPO expedition. It promises to immerse you in adventure, with a team of fellow, skilled human beings across diverse social and ecological settings. For the purpose of addressing pressing challenges, together with the locals who face them.


Author: Charlotte Mellis