CEO and Founder of She for She Pads Mary Namagambe refers to herself and an unapologetic feminist, fighting for Ugandan girls’ continued education even during their menstrual periods and subsequently creating jobs for women producing the menstrual kits. We have talked to the entrepreneur about starting a business and female empowerment both in Uganda and in Denmark.
How and when did your passion for female rights start? And how did it evolve into an international enterprise?
From a young age as a Danish Ugandan woman I faced many issues that I could not accept for myself, and for others of my fellow Afro-Danes. As such I committed myself to work to challenge the things I cannot accept in society, so that the future can be a better reality for all. Since I was a teenager I have worked with challenging issues facing minorities in Denmark, and created my own organizations as I saw a gap in rights and empowerment for people of African descent as well as other minorities.
There was prejudice and intolerance that was expressed in small gestures that were difficult to talk about back then. The history of slavery and colonialism was never taught at school. Accusations of racism were often denied as most Danes do not perceive themselves as such. This means Afro-Danes have had to carry the burdens and effects of racial violence & discrimination without proper recognition.
I have continued to fight against the racism and discrimination the African diaspora faces in white-majority societies as well as dedicating myself to women empowerment on the African continent as I’m the founder and CEO of She for She, a company that produces reusable pads in Uganda, and empowers young girls and women. Mothers described how they had to choose between buying food to their children or buying menstrual products. School girls describing the stigma around menstruation and girls who can’t afford sanitary products is distressing.
Many use crude materials such as bark, old newspaper, old schoolbooks, old T-shirts, and mud instead of proper sanitary products and are suffering from health issues and social stigma as a result. Knowing this pushed me to take action for girls and women by creating reusable pads.
What do you know now that you wished you had known beforehand?
Next April I will have lived three decades on planet Earth. When you reach my age, it’s inevitable that you reflect more deeply about where your life is going. You review where you came from, consider how you got here, and wonder where you’re going next. In my case, I realize how much more deeply I am trusting the universe — clinging to what makes me happy — than I ever did as a younger girl. Because life is good. Not always, but mostly. And when it is not so good, be assured it will get better.
I also wish that I knew that I’m not my thoughts. We are the thinker of our thoughts, not our thoughts. When the negative thoughts come – and they will; they come to all of us – it’s not enough to just not dwell on it… You’ve got to replace it with a positive thought.
How did you find the strength to leap into a business venture?
What inspires me to do the work I do, is that I as a woman have a privilege, to live a life that many women only dream of and therefore it’s my duty to use the privilege I have to create something, to help better other women and girls lives. Because “You have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy is every life you touch.”- Maya Angelou
Besides that, I’m inspired by risk. Starting something that I have no idea how to finish, witnessing people go for something new, makes me wanna do something new.
Can you tell us a little bit more about She for She Pads and how we can get involved?
How can something as natural as menstruation keep girls away from school?
She for She, based in Uganda, is a hybrid company that is working to support young women stay in school and reach their potential.
The company is tackling two core humanitarian issues at once: a lack of access to appropriate health care information and products; and the rate at which young girls in Africa drop out of schooling. Our latest initiative is to create truly affordable sanitary pads combined with health education through an interactive comic-based pamphlet that is designed to enable girls to make informed decisions and measurably increase their productivity and health. Research has shown that pads and healthcare information win back 75% of learning days, helping girls to stay in school and fulfil their potential. By 2021 we aim to reach three million girls with pads and supply over ten million comic books across Africa.
What is your best advice for your fellow females out there?
Now, I don’t mean to dampen anyone’s spirits. The truth is any aspiring successful entrepreneur will make mistakes along the way and experience their own share of rejection. That it will happen is not in question, what to do when it does, that is the crux of the matter. View failure as a gift. When the business is in pain, it will force you into submission, and if you listen, it will give back to you.
Mentoring is a fabulous thing. After all, we sisters gotta stick together, if you know what I’m saying. I've learned a tremendous amount just by reaching out to other small business owners to hear about their experiences — successes, failures, lessons learned. For a long time, I thought I'd be burdening someone by asking to take a few minutes of their time, but I've learned that most people are more than willing, even eager, to share their experiences.
Is there anything else you’re passionate about at the moment?
Protect Your Magic!
For me, self-care is vital. I spend most of my time caring for the needs of others and therefore put my own needs on the back burner. Which can obviously be detrimental in the long run. As Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” And she is right.
The truth is you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. Therefore, self-care is a daily practice for me and I’m very passionate about it. I take a moment every day to practice mindfulness. Being in touch with my soul and inner emotions helps me feel more connected to the world and is a perfect way for me to relieve the burdens of activism and the daily stresses of my everyday life. Focusing on the things I’m grateful for each day helps me feel happier, more centered and more self-confident.
Passion; also known as dedication, as hunger, it is the desire to destroy oneself for one’s art. To tear down, move, or start over in order to rebuild and expand. The feeling of not being able to let go. It is a human condition that most are bound by.
Even though we are JUST human, JUST women, JUST female, we all have that drive that makes us ‘more than’. It is what makes us-, our stories-, and our creations unique. From a job, to a child, to a hobby gone wild, we, and you, are more than JUST female. We have gathered some of the most inspiring Danish women that we know for a talk about passion, creativity, and the balance between worklife and homelife.
Let their inspiring stories, trials and errors be a reminder that we all can struggle, we can fail, but something will always have us return to that same place of passion. And maybe the point is not necessarily to succeed, but to have given it your all, and grown in the process.
Tell us about your passion, struggle, and successes!