Emily Au-Young on supplying emergency period products to Gaza

 Emily Au-Young, a Chinese-Kiwi born in Porirua, has a calling: mitigating period poverty. While working in Hong Kong, long-distance calls with best friend and health care worker Ashleigh Howan brought an epiphany – if periods were inconvenient in places where resources are available, what was it like for those without access?
In 2017, the two ladies went on a research trip to India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, and learned about factory workers who suffer from infections due to unhygienic, self-fashioned sanitary solutions. When they miss work as a result of infections, they get in trouble with their bosses, creating a cycle of suffering. In 2018, Au-Young and Howan founded Reemi, a non-profit with an aim to provide menstruation products and education to women who need it the most. The organisation designed innovative period underwear made with a natural fibre that self-disinfects, holds two tampons worth of blood, and is biodegradable.

Founder of Reemi, Emily Au-Young
Reemi has now won a UK humanitarian grant to supply reusable period underwear to 5000 women and girls in Gaza, but Au-Young says the need in Gaza is much greater, and is turning to New Zealanders to help them reach a further 5000 women and girls in need. 

“In the last six months, one million women and girls have been displaced in Gaza. On top of the horrors of war, they’re facing a severe shortage of period products. We’ve heard stories of girls resorting to using tissues, or washing and reusing single-use pads. So women and girls are dealing with infections and health complications, not to mention shame and embarrassment.” 

“Our reusable, durable period underwear is antimicrobial and lasts for years.
It also comes with discreet washing and drying bags, so it will be a huge relief for women and girls in Gaza, giving them dignity and one less thing to worry about.It will also result in less waste and therefore less infection and disease in crowded camps, and is better for the environment than single use products.”

Au-Young says there is capacity to provide 10,000 women and girls with the reusable period underwear through aid channels in partnership with Oxfam Great Britain. To do so, she needs to raise another $165,000, which equates to 5000 New Zealanders donating $33 each. 

“Our message to New Zealanders is that you can help one woman in need today. For just thirty three dollars you can provide the practical solution of four pairs of reusable period underwear, but it’s so much more than that: you will provide dignity in a really tough situation. People can donate at Reemi.org.

“This isn’t just something for women to get behind, actually a lot of our supporters are men.  Compassion is something we all have.”

Garment workers participate in a Reemi MHM education session

Last year, Au-Young featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 Social Impact list, and plans to do even more incredible things in 2024, like providing period products and education to 10,000 garment workers from AS Colour, assisting a two-year programme to support people with intellectual and physical disabilities across Vanuatu, and research into preferred menstrual products when it comes to war, female genital mutilation and severe drought in Mali, Central African Republic and Somalia. WOMAN asks Au-Young a few questions as a part of our 2024 Women to Watch series.

What is…

A challenge you overcame in 2023?

 I think for a lot of people who start something the biggest challenge is yourself. Even though Reemi has achieved remarkable impact beyond what I could have imagined, whenever we come across a challenge or an obstacle, my gut reaction is to question whether or not we should still exist. I don’t know if the imposter syndrome ever disappears and more than anything, you’ve got to remind yourself of the vision and that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so take it easy.

A professional goal for the upcoming year?

We’ve got a lot of professional travel planned for the year, as well as working to support more severe humanitarian crises. These two things combined can lend itself towards quite a taxing year. So I’ve been discussing with my colleague how we inject more creativity into our professional work, as I often believe that art is the human response to suffering. Art can be such a profound foundation for hope. We work to support women in the most difficult circumstances from a deeply privileged position, so I feel it’s a responsibility to bring hope into our work.

 A trend you anticipate seeing in your industry this year?

 From the space of menstruation, I’m so relieved to finally see innovation where we can now process the menstrual blood into health data through Qvin. It’s always been a dream of mine to use menstrual blood to provide basic health stats and it seems that technology is now being developed! I also love that menopause is being discussed more. I’m hopeful that issues like fistula and incontinence get destigmatized in the same way that periods have. But just for the record, we still have a long way to go with destigmatising periods in many places around the world!

A piece of advice for women wanting to start in your industry? 

This advice is really for anyone wanting to start anything. The world celebrates independent women, as it should, but starting something will radically push you into being interdependent and that’s not a bad thing. If you have a challenge you can’t solve on your own, I believe there will be someone in your community that will have the knowledge and resources, so don’t be afraid to ask! Recently, we had supply chain issues sending products to an NGO in Somalia due to war risks and pirates in nearby water. I called a friend from my local tennis club, who is a supply chain expert and what do you know? We found a solution. 

Related Stories

Every headline about Jorja Miller agrees that she is a champion, rising star, wizard, and prodigy. At four years old, Miller dreamed of becoming an All Black, but upon the realisation that this wasn’t an option, she switched her sights to the Black Ferns. 

Subscribe & WIN!

Subscribe to WOMAN+ for only $19.99 for the year and you’ll have a chance to WIN 2 Nights for 2 at JetPark Rotorua +
an Evening in the Polynesian Spa.

*You can unsubscribe at any time. By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.