Girls in Africa Desperately Need Menstrual Cups and Pads. Those of us living in developed countries often take our access to feminine hygiene products for granted. But instead of reaching for your product of choice when you get your period, what if you didn’t have any reliable way to stop your flow? No pads, no tampons, no menstrual cup. Nothing.
Sadly, adolescent schoolgirls around the world face that reality every month. Indeed, a lack of proper feminine hygiene products is one of the biggest challenges to gender equality in impoverished countries. In places like Kenya, girls have to make do with rags, bits of paper and sometimes even grass. These aren’t exactly leak proof methods. Worrying about embarrassing leaks at school is something that keeps girls from attending during their period.
Girls in Kenya may lose a collective 500,000 school days each year because of not being able to manage their periods, according to Femme International, an organization that aims to provide Kenyan girls with much-needed hygiene products and health education.
It might come as a surprise that an item as simple as a menstrual cup or a cloth pad can make a real difference in helping these girls obtain a better life. But reliable sanitary products can increase their odds of staying in school and one year of primary education has been shown to correlate with at least a 10 percent increase in wages later in life. Additionally, using improvised materials increases the chances of infection and sores.
Simple Yet Complex
Sending disposable pads and tampons isn’t a solution because many of these areas don’t have trash disposal facilities. Cloth pads and menstrual cups are the most logical choice. Hygiene supplies “are arguably the lowest cost intervention measure to yield the largest social and economic change in both the short and long term,” said the British Educational Research Association in 2012.
Do Something About It
Thankfully, there are organizations and programs whose aim is to help girls and women in need to manage their periods, stay healthy and stay in school. Some are even helping to boost the local economy, and you can help by donating your sewing skills or money. In some cases, all you have to do is buy a product for yourself, and one will be given to a girl or women who needs it. Check out the list below.
Dignity Period was founded by a doctor from St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Lewis Wall is an obstetrician and anthropologist.
Along with his wife, he learned about the detrimental impact of the lack of menstrual supplies for girls in Ethiopia. 98 percent of women and girls in Ethiopia don’t have access to necessary menstrual hygiene products, according to the Dignity Period website. Without the means to buy supplies, Ethiopian girls miss up to five days a month from school because of not having a sanitary and reliable way to manage their periods.
Dignity Period has partnered with a local Ethiopian sanitary products factory called Mariam Seba. The pads they make are affordable, washable and reusable. They’re made from cotton with a waterproof lining that makes them leak proof, giving girls the confidence that they’ll be covered during their time of the month.
When you donate to Dignity Period, you’re not just providing free pads for girls in need. You’re supporting jobs for the local women who make the pads.
Donate $20 to Dignity Period, and you’ll provide pads to five women.
The founders of Femme International found that while many non-profit organizations place a priority on female empowerment, few address menstruation, what they believe to be one of the most significant issues in gender disparity.
Femme International provides education about menstrual health and hygiene and provides menstrual cups as a sustainable solution. According to Femme International, there’s an abundance of research illustrating the fact that menstruation is the top reason girls miss school, but nobody seemed to be putting a solution into action.
The organization is focused on girls in East Africa. In addition to health education, they also provide Femme Kits.
Femme Kits contain everything a girl needs to manage her period. Each package includes a menstrual cup or reusable pads, a tin bowl for washing the cup, a small towel, a bar of soap in a protective container, and a small mirror. The kit comes with a washable cloth bag. Girls receive their Femme Kits after successful completing educational workshops.
A donation of $35 provides one Femme Kit.
Days for Girls International
Days for Girls is a nonprofit that’s on a mission to make sure every girl and woman in the world has access to quality, sustainable, feminine hygiene and health education by the year 2022.
Rather than focusing on just one region, Days for Girls has a presence on six continents and serves more than 85 countries. They’ve reached more than 200,000 girls and counting, according to their website.
Days for Girls provides a DfG kit that’s given to girls who need it. Packaged in a drawstring bag, recipients get 2 pairs of panties, 8 absorbent, reusable pads that dry fast, 2 one gallon Ziploc freezer bags for transporting and washing the pads, and 1 washcloth. They’ll also receive a visual instruction sheet showing them how to use their kit.
You can donate funds to Days for Girls or help to assemble Days for Girls kits if you have some sewing skills and a local DfG chapter near you. You can find a list of DfG chapters here.
Making a Difference When You Buy
Some of the companies that make and sell pads and menstrual cups have programs to donate their products to women and girls in impoverished countries. Here are some of them:
- Softcup. For every box of Softcup you buy, they give a menstrual cup to a woman in need.
- Ruby Cup. Ruby Cup matches every customer purchase with a cup donation to a schoolgirl in Africa.
- Lunapads. Since 2000, Lunapads, who also bring us the DivaCup, has been providing girls and women in developing nations with cloth pads through their Pads4Girls program.
- THINX Period Panties. THINX donates seven cloth menstrual pads to a woman or girl in Africa for every pair of panties you buy.
You can help provide access to healthy and sustainable menstrual products that allow women and girls to stay safe and healthy without giving up their ability to go to work, school or participate in their daily activities. A seemingly small thing like a menstrual cup or pad can make a big difference in a life and in the world.