Period Poverty in the Democratic Republic of the CongoPeriod poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) manifests itself in high costs of sanitary products, lack of access to hygiene and sanitation facilities and stigma. Fortunately, the non-governmental organization Uwezo Afrika Initiative is working to address these issues.

Defining Period Poverty

Period poverty entails a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, facilities, education and waste management. For young girls and women unable to purchase sanitary products, period poverty interrupts their progression as these girls cannot attend school or work. Period poverty can have negative effects on mental and physical health and serves as a barrier to the advancement and progression of females across the globe. Worldwide, period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people.

Period Poverty in the DRC

In Kinshasa, in the commune of Makala, specifically in the M’Fidi district, menstruating girls are separated from their peers and may not use the same sanitary facilities as the other children. In the M’Fidi district, almost all schools have only one communal toilet facility for both males and females, making it impossible for menstruating girls to use alternative facilities.

Due to the financial hardship many families face, many girls cannot afford adequate sanitary products. The cost of disposable sanitary pads in the country ranges between $2 and $3 per month. In 2022, almost 62% of Congolese, equal to around 60 million people, lived on less than $2.15 a day, the World Bank highlights. In a country with high poverty rates where the average family has around three daughters, the cost of menstrual hygiene products represents a significant financial burden. As a result, many girls are forced to reuse sanitary products or resort to unhygienic alternatives, which poses risks to their health.

Dangers of Poor Menstrual Hygiene

Poor menstrual hygiene can pose several potential risks to women’s reproductive health. Using unclean alternatives or used sanitary products can introduce bacteria into the vagina, leading to infections in the reproductive and urinary tract and possible infertility.

Another rare but dangerous complication of poor menstrual hygiene is toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS manifests as flu-like symptoms, blistering rash, low blood pressure, disorientation, vomiting and diarrhea. Bacterial toxins cause the condition and menstruating females who use tampons are at particular risk when proper hygiene protocols are not followed.

DRC Period Poverty Statistics

A study by Laura Rossouw and Hana Ross published in 2021 seeks to analyze the extent of period poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and seven other developing countries. The study found that 57% of the sample of women surveyed in Kinshasa reported that menstrual hygiene management facilities lacked privacy and 35% reported that these spaces are not safe. A staggering 75% of the surveyed females cannot lock the hygiene facility they use. In Kinshasa, as many as 84% of the sample reported a lack of access to water and/or soap in toilet facilities.

Impact of Reusable Sanitary Pads

The Uwezo Afrika Initiative, a non-governmental organization, launched a program in 2018 to eradicate period poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization manufactures reusable sanitary pads, called Maisha Pads, using fabrics from local markets and distributes them to schools, orphanages and low-income families. The reusable Maisha Pads sell in sets of three for the affordable price of $2.50 and one can reuse the pads safely for several months. Notably, the initiative provides employment opportunities for women on the production line and enables them to earn commissions on sales.

Looking Ahead

Period poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo poses a significant challenge to the emotional and physical well-being of girls and women throughout the nation. Nevertheless, the production and distribution of reusable pads offer a glimmer of hope to those facing the impacts of period poverty.

– Jess Steward
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF’s work in Senegal
In countries where people heavily stigmatize menstruation, many girls and young women have to resort to excluding themselves from many activities—including their own education. This is the case for many girls and young women in the West African country of Senegal. As one young Senegalese woman, Nogaye, explained to UNICEF: “Without feminine hygiene products, many girls skip school while on their periods. That means they miss up to a week of school every month, so they start to fall behind and eventually drop out.” This is why UNICEF is currently teaming up with many of these young women and various Senegalese NGOs in an initiative that is working to address this problem. There are several things to know regarding this initiative and UNICEF’s work in Senegal.

The Stigma

Menstruation is a part of stigma and misunderstanding in Senegalese society. As U.N. Women stated, “Menstruation is a taboo subject in a Senegalese society strongly marked by beliefs, myths, religious and community prohibitions, which affects the management of menstrual hygiene.”

While Senegalese women have good general knowledge about menstruation, such as “the normal duration of menstruation, the length of the menstrual cycle and the consequences of poor menstrual hygiene on health,” support and understanding from society and consequently access to supplies, are quite sparse, U.N. Women reports. This is one major reason many girls and young women, at the start of their period, exclude themselves from any school or social-related activities.

UNICEF’s Work in Senegal

UNICEF, however, is currently teaming up with young women in Senegal to “[explore] new and creative ways to locally produce menstrual supply kits” so that girls do not have to miss out on their education.

One particularly promising route that UNICEF is taking so far is supporting the creation of reusable sanitary cloth pads for girls and women of underserved communities. By partnering with local NGOs, UNICEF is working to train young women, including young men, in how to create these safe and affordable pads as well as other menstrual hygiene products, as it reported on its website.

As one young Senegalese trainee, Ndela, explained to UNICEF, “The training included sessions on how to sew sanitary pads and hygienic sanitary materials in line with the approved and labeled standards, using locally sourced fabric, coupled with sessions on building entrepreneurial skills.” During the training, the women produced a total of 20,900 pads, which they will later distribute to the schools across the region.

Thus, this initiative is going beyond immediate support for the girls and women of Senegal. However, the creation of these products is also helping Senegalese youth to become more self-sufficient and secure in their future. “Supported by UNICEF, this initiative aims not only to provide schoolgirls with sanitary pads but also to empower the young beneficiaries of the training to sustain their activities,” UNICEF reported on its website.

Other impactful solutions by UNICEF include the creation and distribution of “dignity kits” which contain, among other supplies, these handmade, reusable pads. Additionally, ensuring access to clean water, latrines and other sanitary materials to manage menstruation more comfortably and safely is another major focus of UNICEF’s work in Senegal.

Looking Forward

With the most recent data from UNESCO showing the literacy rate for Senegalese females aged 15 years and older to be at 39.8%— compared to the male literacy rate for the same age group being 64.8%— there quickly becomes apparent the presence of barriers to education for females. The importance of making access to education easier for the girls and young women of Senegal, then, is critical.

By providing period education, supplies and support, the education and social lives of many girls and women of Senegal do not have to stop for up to one week per month. By making education accessible and comfortable, young girls and women could look toward a better future.

As Kelly Ann Naylor, the UNICEF Director of Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH), does well to point out while discussing the lack of period support around the world, “Investment in menstrual hygiene management will benefit girls today, the women they will become tomorrow, and the next generation.”

UNICEF’s work in Senegal should become the norm if the girls and young women of the world’s developing nations are to pursue their education and social lives without impediment.

Riley Wooldridge
Photo: Flickr

WaterAid GhanaWaterAid is a non-governmental organization dedicated to bringing “clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene” to those living in poverty around the world. Established in 1981 in the United Kingdom, the organization now works in 28 countries, including Ghana. WaterAid Ghana plays an especially important role in Ghana as more than 5.5 million Ghanaians currently lack access to clean water. As COVID-19 continues to leave its mark throughout the world, access to water is more important than ever. WaterAid helps improve hygiene during the pandemic in several major ways.

Play for Health

WaterAid Ghana has partnered with the popular Ghana soccer team, Accra Great Olympics, in a project called Play for Health. Play for Health hopes to use soccer to encourage improved hygiene practices and adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures during the pandemic. The educational initiative will focus on communities in the coastal regions of Accra and Tema.

The first official event of the project occurred on April 18, 2021. A team of WaterAid volunteers and Accra Great Olympics soccer players assembled to distribute face masks and hand sanitizer to community members. This included police officers and taxi drivers. Team members also went door-to-door to relay information on COVID-19 protocols.

Educating Women on Menstrual Hygiene

WaterAid Ghana has also partnered with the Akuapem Community Development Programme (ACDEP) to educate women about menstrual hygiene. The campaign was held in Adawso, Ghana, on June 17, 2021. The target audience included women working in the market and other young women. Due to menstrual stigma, menstrual health is often a taboo subject in nations such as Ghana.

Because menstruation is not a subject of discussion, many girls and women lack the necessary menstrual education needed to properly and safely manage their menstruation. By hosting this educational campaign, WaterAid Ghana and ACDEP, along with many female speakers, were able to encourage improved menstrual hygiene in the community.

Prioritizing Hygiene

WaterAid Ghana has also supported adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) stations in public spaces throughout Ghana where infrastructure is often lacking. According to WaterAid, “Clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene services are fundamental to economic development.” WaterAid reports that handwashing with soap is a critical way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet almost 60% of Ghanaians “are unable to practice hand hygiene at all critical times.” WaterAid asserts that “Handwashing with soap affects not just health and nutrition, but also education, economics and equity.”

Prior to the pandemic, hygiene and sanitation were not the most significant priorities. However, turning a blind eye to these issues is no longer possible in the face of the current global health crisis. The longer the pandemic continues, the more damage is done to Ghana’s markets. The inability to properly contain the virus leaves Ghana’s markets in a constant vulnerable position of potentially shutting down.

In June 2021, WaterAid Ghana worked to improve access to two WASH facilities in two districts of the Upper East Region of Ghana. These facilities are located in rural areas where community members typically struggle to maintain proper hygiene routines. Later in June 2021, WaterAid Ghana also helped open another WASH facility in Bawku West, further improving access to hygiene facilities in the country.

Moving Forward

WaterAid Ghana’s work has made a tremendous impact in the region, but in terms of overall access to water and WASH facilities, there is still room for progress. The organization calls upon people around the world to advocate for the right to clean water in Ghana, especially during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Her Drive
The term “period poverty” describes the inability of girls and women to afford menstrual products such as pads and tampons. Though these items are essential to women, many areas of the world still tax menstrual products and the products are not eligible for coverage under food stamps. Her Drive is an organization with the aim of addressing period poverty in order to empower and uplift girls and women across the world.

The Impacts of Period Poverty

Low-income women often cannot afford the costs of menstrual products and turn to less sanitary alternatives such as rags or paper towels. These alternatives pose health risks and increase the chance of infections and irritation. The inability to afford menstrual products also takes a mental toll on women, leading to depression and anxiety. Furthermore, period poverty can impede women’s professional lives, keeping them trapped in poverty. Improperly managed periods can stop girls and women from attending school or going to work, which keeps them in cycles of poverty. Period poverty is a pressing issue that hurts women’s physical and mental health and perpetuates the poverty cycle.

Menstrual Stigma

People often avoid addressing the problem of period poverty because of the stigma around periods. Many people think of periods as a shameful process that they should not speak of rather than a normal biological process. Menstrual stigma means women suffer in silence. Fortunately, with the rise of social media, organizations and movements aim to end menstrual stigma and educate people on menstruation in order to address period poverty. Through these advocacy efforts, campaigns and relief initiatives garner support to provide menstrual products to girls and women who cannot afford them.

Her Drive Addresses Period Poverty

Best friends Alexa Mohsenzadeh and Jenica Baron founded Her Drive in 2020. Her Drive got its start from a viral video posted on TikTok, a popular social media platform that allows users to post short videos. The pair’s first TikTok video simply intended to promote a tampon and bra drive, but after it went viral, the girls decided to transform their project into a Chicago-based organization.

Her Drive collects menstrual products to donate to “women’s shelters, indigenous reservations, Black-owned businesses and refugee support programs” as well as other vulnerable groups. The organization has held menstrual drives in more than 40 U.S. states and extended its reach to Canada as well. Her Drive has also provided guidance to organizations looking to create similar drives in countries such as the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. In support of vulnerable indigenous groups, Her Drive donated menstrual products to the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund and the poverty-stricken Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Her Drive’s goal is also to “empower and educate the next generation of youth leaders to work to eliminate period poverty in their local communities.” Her Drive has collected more than 165,000 period products in addition to thousands of bras and general hygiene items. What began as a simple TikTok video grew into an international organization that is combating period poverty and helping vulnerable girls and women.

Impact of Social Media

Period poverty is still a prevalent issue, but social media is helping to create awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding menstruation. By leveraging social media, organizations are amassing volunteers and donors to help combat period poverty across the world.

– Alison Ding
Photo: Unsplash

Taboo of Menstrual Hygiene
The American Medical Women’s Association defines period poverty as “the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education.” This includes limited accessibility to menstrual products like tampons, pads, washing stations and the ability to properly dispose of used products. The World Bank reports that “at least 500 million women and girls globally” lack the basic necessities for healthy menstrual management, making it difficult to combat the taboo of menstrual hygiene.

The inaccessibility of hygienic resources causes several problems for menstruating women and girls around the world. The U.N. states that in sub-Saharan Africa, 10% of school-aged girls will miss days for 20% of the school year due to menstruation. Their cycles, unfortunately, isolate them from their families and loved ones. These girls have to eat alone,  sleep outside and wear the same clothes daily. Society claims they are “unclean” because of their cycles. Studies in Kenya found that it is not uncommon for girls to trade sex to pay for period supplies. Period poverty is a widespread issue. Countries frequently do not address it because of stigmas surrounding menstruation.

Entrepreneurs in the Making

In 2016, South Australian high school students Eloise Hall and Isobel Marshall attended a leadership conference that would start them on a journey of empowering women all over the world. The two young women left the conference with the motivation to do something impactful.

Eloise and Isobel decided that creating a social enterprise would be the most impactful. This is a result of making menstrual hygiene their target objective. They catered to a market that spent $300 million on period supplies annually.

As Isobel and Eloise researched menstrual hygiene, “they were shocked to learn that 30% of girls in developing countries will drop out of school once they start having periods.” They also researched “that far too many reproductive complications stem from the lack of appropriate menstrual health care and education.” They felt a responsibility to contribute to reducing period poverty. Isobel and Eloise launched their company, Taboo, over the next few years with an immense amount of effort, fundraising, persistence and heart.

Team Taboo

Taboo makes organic cotton period products, pads and tampons. Taboo sells them online and in stores throughout Australia. The Taboo team consists only of volunteers. Taboo has a commitment to using ethically sourced materials in its products. It also donates 100% of its profits. The money goes straight to One Girl, a nonprofit organization that “…break[s] down the barriers that girls face in accessing an education. [They] do this by running girl-led programs in Sierra Leone and Uganda to drive positive change for girls and their communities.” One Girl teaches on menstrual hygiene, which is a frequent topic. Taboo also donates menstrual products, thus,  assisting the program with spreading awareness. One Girl distributes its products to its program members. It also combats the taboo of menstrual hygiene.

Eloise and Isobel sought to help their local community. In addition to their support of One Girl, they offer their consumers an option to subscribe to Taboo’s menstrual hygiene products on behalf of “disadvantaged” women in South Australia. They make a monthly trip to a women’s crisis center called Vinnie’s to hand deliver all donated supplies.

Taboo’s first products released in 2019. This company has made a huge impact in this short time. This contributes to Australia’s desire to combat the taboo of menstrual hygiene. In January 2021, co-founder Isobel Marshall became the recipient of the Young Australian of the Year award. The Taboo team is hopeful this recognition will spread awareness of the period poverty crisis.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Period Products Bill in ScotlandOn November 24, 2020, a groundbreaking moment occurred that changed the struggle against period poverty. The Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products Bill in Scotland. This new bill guarantees free access to necessary hygienic period products to all who require them. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Monica Lennon, championed the fight against period poverty in Scotland and played a significant part in passing this revolutionary legislation.

Ending Period Poverty in Scotland

Even with the United Kingdom being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, period poverty remains a recurrent problem. In 2018, more than 20% of those polled in Scotland stated that they either had limited or no access to period products. Another 10% had to sacrifice food and other necessities to afford them. One in 10 experienced bacterial or fungal infections due to a lack of sanitary products. These rates have gone up to nearly one in four during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Period Products Bill in Scotland practically eliminates these problems. Accessibility to sanitary products must be made by the Scottish Government and organized countrywide. Public restrooms in educational institutions must contain a variety of period products without charge and it also allows oversight over local jurisdictions to ensure enforcement of the law.

Ending Menstruation Taboos

Menstruation has become a stigmatized topic worldwide, despite half the population experiencing it. The dangerous and outdated idea that periods are not appropriate for discussion and seriousness is damaging to those subjected to these taboos.

From South America to Africa, antiquated menstruation views have led to long-lasting negative consequences for those suffering from period poverty. In some cultures, menstruating girls and women must separate themselves from the rest of their community. In Nepal, so-called ‘menstruation huts‘ have dire consequences for women, with local organizations stating that many deaths associated with the practice go unreported.

The importance of ending taboos about menstruation is evident. The Period Products Bill in Scotland is a meaningful step to engage the rest of the world over these unsound presuppositions of menstruation and begin addressing period poverty globally.

Implementing Period Poverty Legislation Worldwide

There has already been worldwide attention brought to the neoteric Period Products Bill in Scotland. Lennon has been fielding communications from leaders and lawmakers around the world, ready to implement similar laws in their own countries. According to Lennon, “Scotland has provided a blueprint and shown how it can be done.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, logistical problems of supplying period products and economic suffering are causing governments to reevaluate the impact of period poverty. Countries with strong infrastructure can utilize Scotland’s approach to combat the worsening situation fast and effectively. The rest of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have already taken note of the problem and Scotland’s practical policy.

Ending Global Period Poverty

In underdeveloped countries, Scotland’s lead in the battle against period poverty can pave the way for education and destigmatizing menstruation. Poverty-fighting organizations can create similar international implementation plans in developing nations with little investment. Thanks to Scotland’s leadership, period poverty may soon become as antiquated as the stigmas surrounding it.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

Boosting Health in the Developing WorldThe health of those living in developing countries links to impacts caused by lack of access to food, clean drinking water, shelter and health care. Recent inventions have come about with the aim of boosting health in the developing world.

Flo Menstrual Kit

More often than not, girls in developing countries either cannot afford or do not have access to menstrual products. This makes it extremely difficult for them to go about their days, particularly if they are in school. Flo is a menstrual product that allows the user to wash, dry and carry a reusable menstrual pad with dignity. The concept was developed by Mariko Higaki Iwai. The Flo menstrual kit was designed with the following issues in mind:

  • School: Due to social stigma, girls worry that people will find out that they are menstruating at school. This fear is compounded by a lack of private restrooms in most schools in developing countries. This can cause girls to miss school or drop out entirely.
  • Hygiene: Reusable pads that go unwashed can cause reproductive infections and illnesses.
  • Privacy: It is difficult to find a private place to wash a reusable pad in rural areas and in schools.
  • Stigma: Menstruation carries a stigma and it can create a lack of confidence in girls who do not receive enough support surrounding the subject.

Flo addresses these issues, allowing girls to have productive days and stay in school while normalizing menstruation.

Hemafuse Autotransfusion

Hemafuse is a handheld device used for the autotransfusion of blood during an operation. This mechanical device was created by Sisu Global Health, a woman-led small business originating in Baltimore, Maryland. After members of Sisu Global Health witnessed the “soup ladle” method of blood transfusion in a Ghanaian hospital, they wanted to create a safe alternative accessible to all. Sisu Global Health originally invented Hemafuse to treat ruptured ectopic pregnancies, however, the device can also help replace or augment donor blood in an emergency situation. This device is imperative for developing countries as standard autotransfusion technology is very costly and these countries often do not have a ready supply of blood.

Kite Patch for Malaria

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, approximately 405,000 people died from malaria. The majority of these deaths were young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is just one of several deadly diseases spread by mosquitoes. Others include the Zika virus, West Nile virus and dengue. The purpose of the Kite Patch is to eradicate malaria and reduce the amount of mosquito-borne diseases across the globe.

The Kite Patch is unique in that it does not use toxic DEET, poisons, pesticides, insecticides or any other harsh chemicals. The Kite Patch is long-lasting and it can be applied to clothing as opposed to the skin. It works by manipulating and interrupting the smell neurons and sensor arrays insects use to find humans. The company has started the Kite Malaria-Free-World Campaign to help rid the world of malaria forever.

Child Vision Self-Adjustable Glasses

According to the Centre for Vision in the Developing World (CVDW), in developing countries, more than 100 million youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are nearsighted. The CVDW estimates that 60 million of these youth do not have access to vision correction options. The CVDW attributes five reasons for this lack: awareness, access, affordability, attractiveness and accuracy.

First, people may not know that they have poor vision or that vision correction is a possibility. Second, rural areas tend to not have optical care stores to purchase eyeglasses. Third, eyeglasses are expensive, and usually, one must attend multiple appointments.

For many, this means missing work, which is often a luxury that they cannot afford. Fourth, adolescents are often concerned about their appearance and risk mockery for wearing glasses because glasses go against the norm. Finally, many people with glasses in developing countries are ill-fit for them due to poor testing or untrained opticians, which can harm already poor vision.

The Child Vision initiative aims to address these five reasons with self-adjustable glasses for youth aged 12 to 18. The initiative will utilize school-based distribution programs to provide children in the developing world with glasses.

Pocketpure Portable Water Purifier

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), inadequate access to safe drinking water affects one in three people globally. Pocketpure is the invention that just might change that. In response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, George Page founded the Portapure company with the intent to provide access to clean drinking water for all.

Portapure’s first invention was Pocketpure, a reusable, on-the-go device that can filter dirty water and make it clean enough to drink. It is essentially a collapsible collection cup with a water treatment apparatus and filtration unit that removes viruses, bacteria and other unsafe particles. With proper distribution, this device has the potential to provide clean and safe drinking water to millions of people around the world. Pocketpure is one of the inventions boosting health in the developing world.

While providing accessible health care for all is no easy task, these inventions show that work is in progress to combat the global health crisis. One invention at a time, innovators, creators and free-thinkers are boosting health in the developing world.

– Mary Qualls
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Guatemala
As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they meet a challenge: their menstruation cycle. Period poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls to stay out of school for days at a time. However, as technology evolves and resources develop, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days for Girls

Days for Girls commits to helping females reach their fullest potential by combating period poverty and menstrual stigma. The organization begins this process by providing a Days for Girls (DFG) Kit, education on hygiene and sanitation, training and general support. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward destigmatizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of a multitude of necessities for managing a period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users of the patented kit say the items can last up to three years. Specifically, these kits require just a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep users comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days for Girls also handmakes the kits and the bags the kits come with, giving the packages a personal touch of beauty.

Thus far, Days for Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach spreads across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand mobilizing teams and chapters. Currently, the organization has more than 15 countries with enterprises. Importantly, the group has an office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production in the country.

The GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project stems from a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ local Guatemalan women. The organization develops and implements workshops and home visits where they provide educational materials on reproductive health and local resources.

In addition to education, The GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable and long-lasting. The kit consists of fertility bracelets with instructions, shields that serve as barriers to any leakage, flannel cotton pads, soap, gallon bags for washing and underwear.

In the past year, The GRACE Project gave 500 kits to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the project has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The kit provides up to three years’ worth of period products and a lifetime of birth control. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.


SERniña founder, Danielle Skogen, lived in Guatemala for three years working as a teacher. During her time, she noticed a need for health and hygiene education. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to bring about curriculums to educate and help eradicate period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as human rights, financial literacy skills, aspiration-setting and menstrual and reproductive health.

In the workshops, facilitators work with the women to raise confidence levels and take care of their hygienic needs. Trained local women who are certified facilitators for SERniña teach all of the organization’s lessons. The program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love. As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

As shown above, the efforts of each organization play an important role in the Guatemalan community. Education, access and support truly uplift the local women. The work to eradicate period poverty in Guatemala can continue thanks to aid from organizations like these.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

ChhaupadiChhaupadi, a form of menstrual taboo, plagues the country of Nepal. Although it is a social taboo in Hindi tradition, the practice of chhaupadi is often practiced in the far-western region of Nepal and in Himalayan regions. This is because the event of menstruation, although a normal and healthy bodily function for females, is considered a form of sin and impurity. Although menstrual taboo exists in other regions of Nepal and in other South Asian countries, it is most prevalent in the Himalayan regions. Here, it is called chhaupadi, “Chhau” meaning menstruation and “padi” referring to women.

What is Chhaupadi?

Chhaupadi occurs during the female menstruation cycle. While women and girls are menstruating, they are considered impure, intouchable, and even perhaps, harbingers of bad fortune. During the menstruation cycle, any object a woman touches is deemed impure, including livestock, water resources and plants. It is believed that if touched, these objects need to be purified in some way. As a result, in regions where Chhaupadi is practiced, women are banished from their homes. During this exile, women and girls are often sent to a “chhau” shed, which is essentially a livestock shed, and the menstruating female will remain there for about four days. Girls who are experiencing menstruation for the first time may need to stay in the “chhau” for up to 14 days. Unfortunately, girls who may experience difficulties or health issues while menstruating must wait until their cycle ends before seeking medical care, which can worsen possible health problems and symptoms.

Even if women are not directly practicing menstrual exile, a 2018 study by sociologist Saruna Ghimire at Miami University found that 100% of girls are restricted by menstrual taboos during their cycles. These women are not allowed to touch food, touch the water tap or participate in normal family activities. The menstrual taboo restricts the resources available, limiting the autonomy of women and possibly damaging their self-image. Additionally, the Ghimire study found that 72% of females are subjected to menstrual exile due to Chhapuadi.

The Dangers of Menstrual Exile

Not only is the stigma associated with menstruation a problem within these communities but the actual practice of Chhaupadi poses many health risks for the women and girls involved. For instance, the temporary shelters used during Chhaupadi are unhygienic, which increases the risk of health complications such as urinary tract infections, diarrhea, dehydration and hypothermia. Additionally, women and girls living in these sheds are subject to the dangers of snake bites and other animal attacks.

Each year, at least one woman or girl dies during menstrual exile. These cases often go unnoticed by the media, leaving the beliefs of community members unchanged. Moreover, the isolation that comes with Chhaupadi poses dangerous consequences to the mental health of these females. Oftentimes, these women and girls will feel abandoned, insecure, guilty and embarrassed.

Law Prohibiting Chhapuadi

In 2017, the Nepali Government enacted a new law that prohibits Chhapuadi. Any family member that forces a female to practice Chhaupadi can be punished with a jail sentence of three months or fined 3,000 rupees, which translates to about $30. Although the Nepal Supreme Court previously banned Chhapuadi in 2005, the practice has been difficult to disintegrate as it is deeply rooted in traditional beliefs. Besides the legislative component, local police are given the task of destroying Chhapuadi shelters. At the same time, some activists argue that Chhapuadi, although rooted in the patriarchal aspects of Nepali culture, will be difficult to stop as many women choose to practice it. Yet, with the new law, women who choose to practice Chhapuadi are required to do so in a safer way, by isolating themselves from their families in a separate area or room and not a shed.

The Road Ahead

Although Chhaupadi stems from Hindu scripture, the practice is one that has existed for centuries. Thus, the actual practice of menstrual exile may not stop right away. Luckily, the Nepalese Government has made strides in reducing Chhaupadi through the law and police action, and if Chhaupadi is practiced by choice, it will be done in a much safer way.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Vanuatu: Putting a Stop to Social Stigmas
The Republic of Vanuatu is an island in the South Pacific Ocean with a population of only 283,558 people. Of that, 49.1 percent are females. With no effective care and knowledge, addressing menstruation is taboo and handling it is more complex than usual. While it is one of the most important and common changes all women experience, women in Vanuatu are at their most vulnerable during their menstrual cycle. In fact, 75 percent of girls miss school for three to seven days per month when they are on their period due to the social stigma that girls are unclean and unfit to work around the house or go to school.

Girls’ Education in Vanuatu

Education is a main tool for success, but girls’ education in Vanuatu is not guaranteed. According to Spain Exchange, Vanuatu schools have the lowest attendance and enrollment rate in the Pacific because attending school in Vanuatu is not mandatory. Even when given the opportunity to go to school, girls don’t have the proper support system they need to finish because schools lack access to proper bathroom facilities, toiletries and feminine hygiene products. Eventually, girls are forced to drop out because they are falling behind from missing school, making it difficult to catch up with the rest of the class. To make matters worse, young girls can’t turn to their mothers for help because mothers barely understand what is happening to their own bodies.

When girls miss school, they are at home trying to use the little resources they have as menstrual pads, usually using rags or leaves. However, these methods are unreliable and unsanitary. Throughout this process, these young girls are feeling sad, ashamed and confused. Fortunately, there are several organizations that have created effective ways for the girls in Vanuatu to feel protected and clean at school during their menstrual cycle.

CARE for Girls’ Education in Vanuatu

CARE is an international humanitarian campaign that fights global poverty. To help girls in Vanuatu, CARE raised $20,349 to help over 300 girls in 10 different schools. Each girl received a hygiene kit filled with various feminine products including pads, washable and reusable pad liners, soap, laundry detergent and a bucket to wash her clothes and pads.

CARE Australia states that the pads are made by Mamma’s Laef, a Vanuatu business that employs local women. Mamma’s Laef sews reusable and eco-friendly pads that are expected to last up to four years for women all over the country. Australian ABC News reported that, at first, this company was making just a few kits a week, but after high demand for its products, business was booming and catching the attention of the government.

Now, Mamma’s Laef holds educational sessions and programs as part of girls’ education in Vanuatu to inform the students about the reproductive system and the natural changes the human body experiences. Girls learn about the menstrual cycle and how to handle it while boys are taught self-care and how to respect women in their country.

With the help and knowledge of organizations such as CARE and Mamma’s Laef, Vanuatu is one step closer to becoming a successful, self-sufficient country. The girls in Vanuatu prove every day that, with just the help and support of each other, anything is possible.

– Kristen Uedoi
Photo: Flickr