PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti was the second nation to become independent from France in the Americas in 1804, but independence came at a cost. Haiti is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, food scarcity and poor sanitation. Now, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti spends per capita $13 a year on healthcare. This leaves women vulnerable when it comes to menstrual hygiene and contributes to period poverty in Haiti. Period poverty is the shortage and unattainability of menstrual products in impoverished areas. Days for Girls International is working to change that.
Period Poverty in Haiti
According to the World Bank, Haiti is home to more than six million people living below the poverty line as of 2012. Haitians living below the poverty line make around $2.41 per day. Due to the lack of funds and obtainability of menstrual products in Haiti, many women suffer through period poverty and are left to their own devices when it comes to proper hygiene. “Women resort to using old rags, mattress foam, newspapers, leaves, even tree bark,” according to Global Health. Because these products are scarce, along with other discomforts when it comes to menstruation, some girls have no choice but to skip school to avoid the taboos.
Haitian, Saintania Jean. Jean grew up in Port De Paix, Haiti during the ‘70s. Jean and her family grew up in poverty but always made enough money to scrape by. “I had to walk two hours just to get to school and two hours to get home!” said Jean in an interview with The Borgen Project. To avoid having her period leak, Jean would wrap toilet paper into the shape of a pad. Not only does lack of access to menstrual hygiene products contribute to period poverty and education inequality in Haiti but access to these products has also been an ongoing problem since the early ‘70s. Fortunately, organizations such as Days for Girls International are here to help.
Days for Girls International
Days for Girls International is a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to supplying women with health education along with reusable, washable and colorful menstrual hygiene kits to battle period poverty. “The most important thing is to bring joy and laughter and shadow the shame and the silence that comes with women’s periods,” said Sandy Clark, Senior Development Officer at Day for Girls International, in an interview with The Borgen Project.
Days for Girls has a dedicated group of 70,000 volunteers with 150 enterprises in 25 different countries. Overall, it has distributed menstrual hygiene kits to 144 countries including Haiti, Clark mentioned. The organization has reached more than 1.7 million women and girls. However, it took time to create the perfect kit. Clark went through 29 different designs over 12 years.
Founder and CEO of Days for Girls International, Celeste Mergens, had the idea to create menstrual hygiene kits when she was on a trip to Kenya, according to Clark. Mergens heard that the women in Kenya sat on cardboard boxes during their periods and had no access to other menstrual products. Quickly, she raised $500 and bought disposable products for the women of the community. But, there was no place to dispose of the products properly. They ended up in chain-link fences, and some women attempted to wash and reuse the disposables, according to Clark
When Mergens first started sewing reusable pads she made the mistake of making the products white. Unfortunately, they stained easy and women were embarrassed to hang them up to dry. Now, the pads are fun, colorful, comfortable and give off the appearance of a hanker-chief when hung up to dry. They can last up to three years if taken care of properly.
Menstrual Hygiene Education
Days for Girls International also includes helpful teaching sessions about menstrual hygiene and sexual education when dispersing the kits. In Haiti, sexual and reproduction education are not part of the regular school curriculum. According to the 2015 Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery survey based on two tribes in Haiti, 25% of women did not understand why they have a period. In order to change that, Days for Girls teachers and volunteers give lessons on women’s health.
Teachers from Days for Girls first explain what a period is, why periods occur and how women get pregnant. Teaching the basics is a fundamental topic of menstrual hygiene. Women are also taught how to care for the reusable kits so they can last up to three years. But, this is just the surface of its teachings, Clark discussed. It also gives lessons on self-defense and trafficking. “This is the opportunity to talk about self-defense, to introduce these topics so they know they have a trusted adult they can talk to,” said Clark.
Days For Girls During COVID-19
Days for Girls is also helping the world’s poor when it comes to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The organization has a talented volunteer group of seamstresses who are now sewing masks along with reusable hygiene kits. Days for Girls has 3,500 people registered and had committed to making one million masks. It has since exceeded this goal.
Days for Girls is devoted to making a positive impact when it comes to period poverty in Haiti and educating women on how to be safe. The organization provides women with the tools to stay healthy and also reminds them that they are not alone. Its website includes information on how to volunteer.
– Jessica LaVopa