In Toronto, 42% of the homeless population is women. Although they represent a significant portion of the homelessness epidemic in Canada, their needs are often the least met. In modern society, the introduction to womanhood begins and ends with a pad. Unfortunately, the majority of homeless women experience their menstrual cycle in unsanitary conditions. As a group, we recognized this to be a significant social issue and wanted to do something about it. These women are typically forced to use cotton balls, tissues, and even socks to make up for what our society has failed to provide. During COVID-19, the struggle has only worsened. A number of shelters have been closed, limiting their hours, or limiting the number of women who can have access to their resources. We believe sanitary conditions for menstruation are not a luxury but rather a human right.

What it does

Freely Feminine is dedicated to removing the shame that comes with menstruation. By placing feminine hygiene products at dispersion kiosks known as “SmartFemme Stations” around the City of Toronto, we will be alleviating the need of these women. The kiosks would be located in strategic locations where female homeless populations are high like Young and Dundas as well as Eglington. When homeless women approach, they would enter in their information and be presented with what type of sanitary product best suits their personal needs as every woman has different needs. The kiosk would also be attached to an app that can be accessed by women of any and all socio-economic standards.

COVID-19 has had long-lasting implications by stripping many women of access to contraceptives and other forms of family planning materials. By having access to the Freely Feminine App, women across the GTA would be able to punch in their information and track their cycle as well as have 24/7 communication with the local doctor's office.

Our brand allows women to take their personal hygiene back into their own hands, providing them with the necessary physiological security to start a future where they can help others.

How we built it

Our digital kiosk uses capacitive touchscreen technology. It makes good use of the fact that the human body is naturally conductive. Our screens are made of transparent, conductive material, and it is coated onto a glass material. This allows multiple touchpoints on the screens and the reason it works is that it interacts with any conductive materials, and since a human finger is conductive, it interacts easily. It also does not require direct touch which is why our screens are encased in an extra glass protective layer. Water would also not disrupt the connection and therefore have a longer lifetime. Our touchscreens simplify the design of our system and make it possible to attain a compact size while reducing the cost of maintenance during its life cycle.

Challenges we ran into

For many of our team members, this was their first hackathon and introduction to the STEAM world without any prior experience of coding, developing apps, or creating websites. However, we successfully carried our knowledge learned from previous computer science and business high school courses in order to design a sustainable solution to an ongoing social issue that is prevalent throughout society today. One of the challenges we faced was coding. We were determined to integrate coding into our presentation such that it showcased our knowledge of the technical world with an emphasis on technical complexity. In order to perform to the best of our ability, we used the help of the TOHack mentors who provided specific links to tutorials which we could reference in order to code our website and find different platforms to embed into the website. Moreover, we ran into some trouble using the coding software. For example, we had learned basic HTML coding prompts in school but never knew how to develop complex and professional-looking websites. To elaborate, this meant that we only knew how to change the background color and add text. This made it challenging for us to code it in a way that it looked professional and complex. Despite the fact that we could have opted to use website development software such as Wix, we wanted to gain more knowledge on coding itself. To alleviate the problem of not knowing how to code HTML, we watched tutorials and conducted further research on the types of codes we could use. After several hours, we created a seamless and successful website that involved the use of hyperlinks, contact forms and gave a much better look than what Wix could have provided. In addition, as we had never developed an app before, we were initially lost on how to approach this new concept. However, through further research online, gaining knowledge from our peers, and having a conversation with a mentor, we understood how to create a mockup app that can be accessed through a QR code and function as a real app that can be found on an app store.

Moreover, we were intimidated by other teams as they consisted of university students that had immense knowledge on the topic of STEAM and coding. However, we built off of what we knew and stepped out of our comfort zone to learn new concepts such as coding, to produce an idea we are extremely proud of and believe in.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

As a team of four best friends with experience of working together on previous projects, we are extremely passionate and driven to work as a team in order to produce results that we are completely satisfied with. However, our previous projects have never involved developing such advanced ideas from scratch, which is what motivated us to apply for this hackathon in the first place. We have successfully created a website, an app, a 3D prototype of our product, and the business aspect as background information about the product. Specifically, we are very proud of the fact that we created a website using HTML coding, and not a template-based software such as Wix. As women, we are proud of ourselves for creating awareness of such a social issue that directly impacts the women of our communities, our sisters, our mothers, our aunts, and girlfriends. In addition, we were able to use our knowledge of the HTML code that we picked up in the computer science course in high school and to see the uses of it outside a classroom environment which was very rewarding. Leading up to this competition, we practiced our skills to code and create websites and were able to successfully create one that reflects our quality and standards of professionalism.

What we learned

As teenagers living in the 21st century, the most volatile weapon we have is access to technology. Our team prides ourselves on being lifelong learners and being able to treat each day as a learning experience. Designing our “On the Go Flow Stations” has taught us the importance of formatting code and how expansive coding languages truly are. By working in languages that we were not particularly familiar with like HTML, we began to appreciate the differences between each coding language as we had a better understanding of the benefits each one offered. When working, it is easy to become discouraged when the code does not work properly the first time. We were truly tasked with applying our knowledge and thinking outside of the box when looking for solutions. In particular, expanding our horizons when it comes to working with new coding languages. Previously to this experience, we had only learned the barebone basics of java and HTML. Through this experience, we have also had time to work with Appy Pie - a fundamental aspect of our application.

When coding, we had focused on a lot of the back-end elements, oftentimes forgetting the importance of design. Since we knew how personal this app would be, we wanted to ensure it was warm, welcoming, and would truly serve the individuals who would need it the most. The design was an element that we truly had to work outside of our comfort zone to master. Using third party websites like Vectary, allowed us to consider both the software and hardware elements, keeping our design as comprehensive as possible.

As grade 11 students with a passion for technology, we used this hackathon as a stepping stone to elevate our basic skills and ensure our passion shines through with every line of code.

What's next for Freely Feminine

Although we may have successfully created a brand and product, it has a long way to go before it can be integrated into the world of STEAM. There is tremendous potential for this idea and it has the ability to create a demanding change in this modern society where equality for women is an evergoing fight. In the future, we may look to add more features to our app to better accommodate the users. This can be done by testing out our prototypes and gaining valuable feedback and critiques of business professionals across the world. Also, we will look to expand upon this idea to UN Women who have previously done a lot of work that is concerned with women’s issues. For example, they have partnered with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs (MoWCA) to distribute 7893 dignity kits to households all around Bangladesh and have brought the importance of sanitary towels to Africa.

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