Sabrina Rubli, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Femme International, speaks about her work to provide women and girls with an understanding of their bodies and the tools they need to stay in school and reach their potential. She discusses the challenges she has faced starting an international business in a developing country and how having a strong team has made all the difference in the success of their operation in Tanzania.
My name is Sabrina, and I am the co-founder and executive director of an organization called Femme International. We exist because we believe that every girl has the right to go to school every day of the month and that something is natural as a girl’s period should never have stopped her from achieving her potential and accomplishing her goals. We take an education based approach. We work in East Africa to provide women and girls with a really comprehensive understanding of their bodies, their reproductive system, and their menstrual cycle to help them learn how and give them the tools to manage their bodies of a really safe and healthy way. We also provide them with access to reasonable menstrual products to help them stay in school.
As wonderful as a country is, Tanzania still growing and developing systems and infrastructure and things like that. So sometimes the process of getting seemingly very simple tasks done takes a lot longer because it’s bit more disorganized.
For us, one challenge that we’re dealing with right now in Tanzania is there are no standards when it comes to reusable menstrual products. When we try to import for example reusable pads or menstrual cups, the government literally does not have a form to write that on, and there’s nothing for the Tanzania Food and Drug Authority and the Tanzanian Bureau of standards. They don’t have anything, and so we’re literally having to build those from scratch, along with other organizations. We’re definitely not doing that ourselves. That’s a really interesting process as well. I think for myself being a Canadian, my Swahili is not great. I don’t speak fluently. I don’t understand. That’s not a problem that I can solve. So we need to make sure that we have really qualified local staff, Tanzanian staff, who can take care of those problems and work with their government to build that up.
Making sure that you have a strong Tanzanian team or local team or for whatever country you’re in around you, is what helps you solve these challenges because that’s not something that I can do just because I’m not Tanzanian. It just makes more sense for the the Tanzanians to work together, and we do. It’s been a really interesting process and dealing with these governmental bodies that can sometimes be extremely frustrating and confusing because they’re growing and building their systems. Sometimes it feels as though everyone you asked is a different answer to the same question. So it takes a lot of time and a lot of patience to figure out what the actual answer is and then what actual forms and paperwork you need to to bring to them to get these standards in place.