SEATTLE — Many girls in developing countries miss or completely drop out of school when they start their periods. Disposable sanitary pads are almost non-existent due to their availability and high cost, and reusable pads can be unsanitary if not thoroughly washed or dried (with most girls using old clothing and even leaves). Social stigmas and a lack of separate bathroom facilities cause girls to miss school for fear of being teased.
According to UNICEF, one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school because of their period, which adds up to missing about 20 percent of the entire school year. Menstrual hygiene management and awareness plays a crucial role in enabling girls to reach their full potential. Luckily, there are many organizations around the world that help menstruating girls stay in school.
Nepal: Promise of a Cycle
In Nepal, menstruating women and girls practice the chaupadi tradition, where they stay inside a makeshift hut or she — unable to enter even their own homes — during their menstrual cycle. The tradition, although illegal, is still widely practiced, due to the Nepalese belief that anything a menstruating female touch will bring bad luck.
Promise of a Cycle Initiative, launching only last year, raises awareness about menstruation in schools, in order to end this taboo. They provide workshops to discuss topics which were previously unspoken, allowing girls in Nepal to talk about issues and ask questions in a safe space.
AfriPads, based in Uganda, designs natural and eco-friendly reusable pads and menstrual kits for women in Africa and across the world. The company boasts a positive impact to the wellbeing and health of over 1.5 million girls and women globally, while also providing meaningful employment for 150 Ugandans (mostly women).
The United States: Days for Girls
Days for Girls is a U.S.-based organization that strives to provide support for women in both short and long-term situations. They not only provide girls around the world with sanitary kits and health education, but also offer training for older girls and women so that they can continue to support hygiene needs and create sanitary kits in their own community.
They rely on a volunteer-based community of chapters and teams who make and distribute kits, while the Enterprise Programs “provide key community members with the tools to make Kits and meet hygiene needs long into the future.”
Canadian company, Lunapads, launched Pads4Girls in 2000, supporting menstrual and reproductive health education in the Global South. They provide both reusable pads and underwear to not only help menstruating girls stay in school, but also alleviate the environmental impacts that disposable sanitary products have on the earth.
Menstrual Hygiene Day
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global platform created by WASH United that brings people together to promote menstrual hygiene management and help menstruating girls stay in school. MH Day hopes to bring awareness and highlight solutions to the challenges faced by women on an international scale. MH Day 2017 saw 350 events in 54 countries (India being the most active with 67 events), significant media coverage, and the participation of influential partners such as UNICEF and Global Citizen.
Events ranged from workshops and educational programs within schools and government bodies, to rallies and concerts, all focused on the single goal of breaking the silence and raising awareness in global menstrual health.
– Katherine Gallagher