SEATTLE, Washington — Today, 130 million school-age girls around the world do not attend school. Studies show that adolescent girls are three times more likely to drop out of school than adolescent boys. This is due to barriers girls face such as stigmas surrounding menstruation, early-child pregnancy and childhood marriage. Pads4Girls is working to keep young girls in school by providing important and sustainably menstrual products to those who cannot afford them.
The Importance of Girls’ Education
According to research done by both the International Center for Research on Women and the World Bank, the more years girls attend school, the fewer the chances of them experiencing both early-child pregnancy and childhood marriage. This research also shows that women’s wages could increase between 15 trillion and 30 trillion worldwide” if more girls had access to a full, 12-year education.
When girls are given the opportunity to attend school, it empowers them and helps them to make better, more definite decisions about their future. Access to education has been proven to increase a girl’s chances of avoiding long-term health complications, reducing the number of children they have and escaping poverty. The probability of these changes occurring increases from generation to generation. Education has a ripple effect. If a woman gets a full, 12-year education, it increases the chances that her kids will get a 12-year education, then her grandkids and so on.
Barriers to Girls’ Education
Early-child pregnancy and childhood marriage play a key role in preventing girls from attending school; however, another barrier girls face is their periods. This is probably the most common barrier of all. Girls menstrual cycles affect their ability to access education for the following reasons:
Limited access to sanitary products, pads and tampons: For many girls, sanitary products are too expensive to afford. In countries such as Malawi, the cost of sanitary products equals a day’s wages. When girls cannot afford pads or tampons, they often have no other choice but to miss school during their periods.
The discrimination and stigma girls face during their periods: In some cultures, periods are considered dirty and shameful. This is a common reason as to why one in five girls in India drop out of school. Once they start their periods, their classmates and teachers tend to discriminate against them. As many as four in five girls In the region of Maharashtra in India, drop out for this reason.
Lack of educational resources to teach girls safe, sanitary hygiene practices: When girls do not have a basic knowledge of their reproductive system and sexual health, they are more likely to drop out of school, experience domestic violence and live in poverty. It is estimated that girls who lack the proper education and access to sanitary hygiene products miss around 10 to 20 percent of their yearly school days. The longer this goes on for, the more likely they are to drop out of school altogether.
Lunapads’ Pads4Girls Campaign
In 2000, the Canadian organization, Lunapads, became determined to ensure that all girls are able to attend school whether they are on their periods or not and launched its Pads4Girls campaign. This campaign advocates for all girls in the global south to have access to menstrual health education and resources. Lunapads believes that education is a crucial part of all girls development and that a period, something women cannot control, should not prevent anyone from this opportunity.
Pads4Girls provides washable, reusable pads and underwear to females who cannot afford to buy disposable hygiene products each month. These products are sustainable and last for years. Since this campaign began, Pads4Girls has supplied more than 100,000 reusable pads throughout 18 different nations to more than 17,000 girls. In 2013, Lunapads reported that their Pads4Girls campaign was able to help 2,984 girls stay in school.
Other Pads4Girls Projects
Pads4Girls does many projects throughout each year that positively benefit disadvantaged women. For example, in May 2017, Pads4Girls partnered with The Unmentionables, a nonprofit that provides hygiene necessities to displaced women throughout the U.S., Greece, Somalia, Egypt, and Uganda. During this partnership, pads and underwear were donated to women in refugee camps in Greece. The impact this project made was enormous. These migrant women normally would have substituted old leaves and scraps from the garbage for pads. Now, they were able to be out in public without having to worry about discomfort or being embarrassed from accidental leakage.
Another project Pads4Girls launched began in 2012 when Lunapads partnered with a woman named Rachel Starkey who works for the organization Menstrual Health Management (MHM). This project produced a total of 10,000 “Dignity Kits,” containing two tie-on undies, two leak-proof shields and six absorbent kits each. In 2014, these kits were distributed to girls in Malawi who could not afford disposable hygiene products. These girls were also given access to menstrual hygiene education and empowerment classes.
Ultimately, these two examples demonstrate how Lunapads’ program, Pads4Girls, is helping disadvantaged girls stay in school. If this trend continues, the rates of child marriage and early pregnancy will decrease. Women’s income will increase significantly. Girls will be more empowered with the ability to make decisions for their own future. To help Pads4Girls continue to support girls’ menstrual health and education, donations can be made through their website.
– Emily Turner