Ziyaan Virji, a 17-year-old student of Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya has won the Princess Diana Award. The announcement was on Monday 12 August 2019, during the international youth day. Ziyaan Virji won the prestigious award for the provision of reusable sanitary towels. However, the project aims to end menstrual poverty and the associated stigma in different parts of the world, especially in Africa.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Diana Award. The award is one of the highest accolades a young person can receive for humanitarian efforts or social action. Virji’s recognition was through an initiative, Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women (AASW) which he found. Following the announcement, Ziyaan Virji could not hide his joy. He said,
“I am honored to be a recipient of this prestigious international award and I thank everyone who contributed to the success.”
Ziyaan Virji and the concept of reusable sanitary towels
Ziyaan Virji was shocked during his school research project to discover that millions of girls across the globe do not have access to menstrual pads. After completing his project, he decided to continue working on reusable menstrual pads. Narrating his research findings, Ziyaan Virji said,
“In 2017, I researched about menstrual hygiene while working on my school personal project. It was shocking to find out that over 500 million girls across the world do not have access to the necessary menstrual health resources they require. After completing the school project, I decided to continue pursuing the project.”
Ziyaan Virji is a final year student of the International Baccalaureate Diploma program. According to the 17-year-old, the Academy has taught him so much about service to humanity. Consequently, Virji works with Tunaweza (a group of women with disabilities) to produce and distribute reusable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective sanitary packages. Virji said,
“We produce and distribute reusable sanitary packages and equip girls with the necessary skills to give themselves and their communities access to menstrual hygiene. These packages last for up to three years. They are 100 percent biodegradable and cost between three to five dollars.”
Impact of Ziyaan Virji’s Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women initiative
The Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women initiative has so far reached out to over 300 girls. This includes girls in India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the UAE. The full package handed to the girls includes eight cotton liners, two wings/ covers made from kitenge (an African fabric), antiseptic soap, two pairs of underwear, a waterproof bag, a calendar, and a booklet on menstrual health. AASW also hold interactions, education workshops, and stitching workshop in schools. Ziyaan Virji said,
“We are going to create more networks in our social media platforms such as our Instagram and Facebook pages.”
Ziyaan Virji’s concept of reusable pads is not entirely new. In 2015, Mariko Higaki Iwai, a Japanese design student designed a simple reusable pad and her design also won several high-profile awards. Referring to the stigma girls go through during their period, Iwai said,
“It’s 2015 and such things shouldn’t be happening now. That was what we wanted to solve.”
However, Ziyaan Virji stands out because his AASW initiative is not only about delivering reusable and cost-effective pads. Thus, the initiative goes a step forward to sensitize girls about their menstrual health.
About the Diana Awards
The Diana Awards is in memory of the Princess of Wales, Diana. The award is in line with her belief that young people can change the world. Nominees of the award must be between 9 and 25 years and must have been carrying out their activities for at least 12 months. However, the judging criteria are the social impact, vision, service journey, inspiration to others, and youth-led. The award enjoys support from The Duke of Sussex and The Duke of Cambridge as well as Diana’s son.