TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Women face many barriers that prevent them from escaping poverty. Women are the backbones of impoverished communities, yet they face gender inequality and opportunity barriers. Organizations worldwide focus on women’s empowerment to boost economies and ultimately end poverty. Pink Box Purpose, a faith-based nonprofit, works to aid impoverished Honduran women by tackling issues such as food insecurity, housing, education, health care and period poverty. The Borgen Project interviewed Jenni Patnode, the co-founder of Pink Box Purpose, to understand the organization’s ideology, process and experiences.
The Reality of Women in Poverty
Women and children are most vulnerable to poverty and face many barriers that trap them in cycles of poverty. The High-level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment has stated that “women’s unpaid work contributes $10 trillion per year globally or 13% of global GDP.” Families rely on mothers and daughters to shoulder the burden of household responsibilities. While this supports families and indirectly helps the economy, this unpaid work burden leaves women without an income and unable to escape generational cycles of poverty.
Recognizing the contributions of women to society, U.N. Women has declared that “To root out poverty, we must root out gender injustice in all its forms.” U.N. Women recognizes women as the major drivers and beneficiaries of poverty eradication and has stated that “poverty eradication would only be possible if women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms are strongly upheld with universality.”
Period Poverty in Honduras
Patnode told The Borgen Project about the most prevalent issues Pink Box Purpose has discovered during its work. According to the World Bank, in 2016, more than 66% of Hondurans lived in poverty. Due to these high rates of poverty, most women and girls cannot afford menstrual products, and as a result, have to skip work and school. In an average year, these period poverty-induced absences amount to more than 60 days of school. Statistics indicate that one in three Honduran girls drops out of school annually. Though period poverty is not the sole cause of these dropouts, it is certainly a contributing factor.
The lack of education means that 16.8% of Honduran girls are illiterate, according to Pink Box Purpose. Additionally, 26% of Honduran girls become pregnant before they turn 18. In a period poverty-free situation, “a girl in Honduras who finishes secondary school is likely to earn [more than]$500,000 [extra]in her lifetime compared to a girl who drops out of school at the age of menstruation.” This is an impressive income addition as most Hondurans work for less than $2 a day.
Pink Box Purpose
Pink Box Purpose’s co-founders, Heather Wittig and Jenni Patnode, work with their local team to empower and aid women. Wittig and Patnode aimed to supply “30-50 hygiene bags with reusable menstrual pads” on their mission trips to Honduras. During a March 2017 mission trip, Wittig showed the pads to a local Honduran woman named Alba who then expressed interest in sewing the pads along with other women in her community. Wittig and Patnode did not plan for this approach yet loved the possibilities. This prompted the beginning of Pink Box Purpose and the formation of the Hygiene Headquarters in Olanchito, Honduras.
After bringing with them 10 suitcases filled with fabric and sewing machines, Wittig, Patnode and some friends taught a team of local Honduran women how to sew the pads. Currently, the Hygiene Headquarters employs 12 women who create and deliver pads and hygiene bags. The defining feature of the pads is their durability, with a lifespan of at least four years or longer when used with proper care. Honduran girls and women report that typical sanitary products often cause rashes or infections due to the Honduras heat. The Pink Box Purpose pads, due to their reusable and washable nature, eliminate these issues.
The Impact of COVID-19 in Honduras
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on impoverished communities in Honduras. During a March 2021 trip to Honduras, this reality became clear to the Pink Box Purpose team. The co-founders went to a mile-long dump where they witnessed Honduran children “eating garbage from the dump.” Concerningly, “one of the boys was chewing on and eating old candy wrappers and a plastic acrylic fingernail,” Patnode describes. With no way for Honduran people to work or earn money due to COVID-19 restrictions, a disrupted supply chain and a collapsing economy, the team learned that, in Honduras, more people were dying of starvation than of COVID-19.
This jumpstarted the organization’s food program with the aim of supporting local farmers and local economies by buying 100-pound bags of rice or beans from local stores, using money from donations. The organization also began a housing project to help build homes in Honduras for the homeless. This fundraising campaign launches soon with plans to work with U.S. businesses to sponsor houses for families. Additionally, the Red Cross works with Pink Box Purpose. The partnership is mutually beneficial because Pink Box Purpose sends medical supplies donations to the Red Cross, and the Red Cross, which is able to pinpoint the most destitute Honduran areas, works with the team at the Hygiene Headquarters to distribute items to the neediest Hondurans.
GIVE. LOVE. PERIOD
Pink Box Purpose launched a new campaign: GIVE. LOVE. PERIOD (#giveloveperiod & #pinkboxpurpose). This campaign showcases who Pink Box Purpose is while raising awareness and funding to alleviate poverty in Honduras. The organization also has a YouTube channel with videos of its work in Honduras. Following Pink Box Purpose’s lead in women’s empowerment, one must remember that global poverty reduction is not possible unless women stand as a priority in poverty reduction initiatives.
– Anna Montgomery
Photo: Courtesy of Pink Box Purpose