AFRIpads in Uganda
Sophia and Paul Grinvalds created AFRIpads in Uganda while they were living in a remote village there in 2010 and saw the lack of accessible menstrual products firsthand. To combat the scarcity of menstrual products and the stigma periods carried in the country, the Grinvalds invented an affordable and reusable menstrual pad. AFRIpads in Uganda promote hygienic and accessible menstrual health in order to educate and empower young girls in the nation and across the world to feel comfortable and safe during their periods.

AFRIpads in Uganda

Today, AFRIpads employs over 200 Ugandans in the country’s full-time, formal employment sector. In addition, it has impacted millions of girls all over the world with its sustainable and affordable products. The company has helped the environment by eliminating the use of approximately 190 million disposable pads, as women can use each AFRIpad for up to a year.

In addition to helping the environment and giving back to the country’s economy, AFRIpads is helping empower the women of Uganda by focusing on educating schoolgirls about healthy and natural period habits. Menstrual health education is a taboo topic in Ugandan culture, and schools have never formally taught it. However, AFRIpads is helping to turn this around by providing use and care guides, as well as an educational comic in all of the brand’s menstrual kits. The company also offers online training for adults to learn how to teach young girls about the menstrual cycle.

Co-founder Sophia Grinvalds told the Irish Times that “There’s misconceptions about losing your fertility if you do certain things when you have your period…In one part of the country there’s a belief that if a girl on her period, or a woman on her period, walks through your garden when you’re growing vegetables, that everything in your garden will die.”

Employment

Grinvalds and her team decided to base AFRIpads in the Ugandan village Kitengeesa in order to deliberately boost the rural economy. Women make up 90% of the company’s employees, giving these women an opportunity for greater independence with their own incomes. “They have bank accounts at Barclay’s, have savings accounts, are saving for the government pension plan, [and are paying taxes],” Grinvalds told NPR in an interview.

The Kitengeesa manufacturing base for AFRIpads in Uganda provides a sense of community for the workers who feel proud to involve themselves in the organization’s impactful mission. In addition, it empowers women by allowing them to economically support their goals. A testimony by AFRIpads’ production supervisor Judith Nassaka stated that “The best thing about AFRIpads is that there is strong teamwork among the employers and employees…They also pay me the best salary. My future plan is to buy a plot of land and build my own home.”

Future Plans for Outreach

AFRIpads also collaborates with several other international nonprofit organizations such as Girls Not Brides, an organization that advocates to end child marriages and seeks to empower young girls. Through partnerships like these, women are able to access educational resources, affordable products and advocate for themselves.

AFRIpads stated on its website that it has reached more than 3.5 million girls and women across the globe with reusable and affordable products. AFRIpads continues to educate girls and women about the menstrual cycle and safe hygiene practices, in addition to providing employment in developing areas of Uganda. This, in turn, can help combat environmental waste across the world.

– Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

The Plight of Period Poverty in Nigeria
Period poverty occurs when someone cannot afford proper menstrual hygiene products, including tampons and sanitary pads. Health experts have labeled period poverty as the cause of why students, girls in particular, routinely miss school. Approximately 1.2 billion women across the world do not have sufficient access to these menstruation sanitation products. This typically leads to unhygienic practices, like using rough newspapers or cloth napkins in place of pads. According to reports by UNICEF, one in 10 African girls miss school due to their periods. This is akin to about 20 percent of a school year. Nigeria also places a heavy tax on menstrual products, with a pack of pads costing around $1.30. People who are facing extreme poverty, approximately 44 percent of the population, make less than $1.90 per day. Here is more information about period poverty in Nigeria.

Period Poverty in Nigeria

Period poverty in Nigeria has received little attention, but due to firsthand encounters with schoolgirls who struggle to make ends meet between school and their menstrual hygiene, more initiatives have sprung forward. In a conservative country where discussions on menstrual health are often taboo, these measures are important to start eliminating barriers to quality menstrual hygiene.

In March 2018, Ashley Lori, a health activist, began her advocacy efforts when she witnessed the impact of period poverty in Nigeria. She formed an advocacy campaign that focuses on three primary aspects: advocacy, sensitization and support programs. She developed and supported various efforts like the #1millionpadscampaign, Cover Her Stain campaign and Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28. The campaign has distributed sanitary pads to secondary students in the city of Abuja and other rural areas.

Menstrual Health Education

UNICEF developed the Menstrual Health Management (MHM) program based on its research in 2017. The program is an initiative to teach women and adolescent girls how to use “clean menstrual management material” to absorb menstrual blood and to provide access to readily available facilities to dispose of the menstrual material.

In August 2019, public health specialist and sexuality health educator Lolo Cynthia traveled to southwest Nigeria to teach students how to sew their own reusable sanitary pads. The material comprises of linen and cloth and each teenager was able to take home two reusable pads and additional materials to make more. This reusable pad initiative sparked a wave of discourse surrounding sexual health. Cynthia, the founder of social enterprise LoloTalks and a UNHCR Nigerian influencer, is from Lagos, Nigeria, where she witnessed the necessity to empower these communities with sexual education firsthand.

In her NoDayOff campaign, Cynthia focused on access, awareness and affordability to alleviate period poverty.  In August 2019, the campaign allocated more than 1,000 disposable menstrual pads in Lagos’ Festac Town. It was difficult to receive financial backing for her campaign, but eventually, the First Lady of Ondo, Betty Anyawu-Akeredolu, offered support. These organizations also petition for the government to take on the civic responsibility of reducing taxes or providing greater accessibility to sanitary pads.

Sanitation Initiatives

Other aid efforts include a sanitation initiative that Hope Springs Water developed. This organization emerged in Athens, Texas to increase access to drinking water and sanitation to the world’s poor. It also teaches schoolgirls how to make their own menstrual pads from sustainable fabrics. The project, SuS Pads, intends to help women make their own menstruation pads with sustainable fabrics. The organization hosted menstrual hygiene workshops, where schoolgirls learned about disposable pads and the importance of menstrual health.

Empowering women to make their own reusable pads not only improves sanitary conditions but also serves as an economic vehicle that can fuel more household income. It is an effective avenue for women to create their own businesses and profit off of making their own reusable pads. There are many countries that are taking steps in alleviating the financial burden of affording menstrual products. This includes Kenya’s implementation of a historic law in 2018 that would hand out more than 140 million pads to girls in its public schools. This will eventually boost girls’ education and give access to sanitary pads to 4.2 million girls in the country. Global support channels more awareness on the issue of not only period poverty in Nigeria but in other regions as well, which helps fight the plight of global poverty.

Brittany Adames
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

young advocates

Today, some of the most innovative, forward-thinking change-makers happen to be under the age of 18. Keep reading to learn more about these three top young advocates who are doing their part to address global issues from poverty to gender equality and education.

3 Young Advocates Who are Changing the World

  1. Zuriel Oduwole
    Since the age of 10, Zuriel Oduwole has been using her voice to spread awareness about the importance of educating young girls in developing countries. Now 17 years old, Oduwole has made a difference in girls’ education and gender issues in Africa by meeting with and interviewing important political figures like presidents, prime ministers and first ladies. To date, Oduwole has spoken in 14 countries to address the importance of educating young girls in developing countries, including Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria. “They need an education so they can have good jobs when they get older,” Oduwole said in a 2013 interview with Forbes. “Especially the girl child. I am really hoping that with the interviews I do with presidents, they would see that an African girl child like me is doing things that girls in their countries can do also.”
  2. Yash Gupta
    After breaking his glasses as a high school freshman, Yash Gupta realized how much seeing affects education. He did some research and found out that millions of children do not have access to prescription lenses that would help them to excel in their studies. Gupta then founded Sight Learning, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes eyeglasses to children in Mexico, Honduras, Haiti and India.

  3. Amika George
    At the age of 18, Amika George led a protest outside of former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s home to convince policymakers to end “period poverty.” Period poverty is the unavailability of feminine sanitary products for girls who cannot afford them. Girls who can’t afford these products are often left to use rags or wads of tissue, which not only raises health concerns but also keeps girls from their education. In order to combat this issue, George created a petition with the goal for schools to provide feminine products to girls who receive a free or reduced lunch. As of now, George has mobilized over 200,000 signatures and helped catapult the conversation of period poverty at the political level in the U.K.

These three world-changing children prove that age does not matter when it comes to making a difference in the world.

Juliette Lopez
Photo: Flickr

Organizations Fighting Period PovertyLack of access to menstrual products impacts many girls and women in both the developing and developed world. Having a period without access to proper sanitation products can hurt a girl’s educational and life opportunities. However, these four organizations fighting period poverty are providing access and empowerment to girls and women in need.

Top 4 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty

  1. PERIOD
    Highschoolers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand founded PERIOD in 2014 to combat period poverty and period stigma. Okamoto was inspired to help launch the nonprofit after dealing with homelessness as a teen. Homeless women often lack access to menstrual products because they cannot afford them or because shelters do not have enough products to go around. Today, PERIOD has more than 300 chapters that help distribute period products around the world, and so far, 510,181 women have been served by PERIOD’s work. The nonprofit is also fighting to eliminate the luxury tax on tampons and pads in the U.S. and abroad.
  2. Freedom4Girls
    Founded in 2016 by Tina Leslie, Freedom4Girls was inspired by Leslie’s experience working with the charity Maji Safi Projects in Kenya. During her time there, Leslie helped with Maji Safi Projects’ period poverty campaign, which consisted of creating sewing workshops for local women, making washable, reusable menstrual pads and delivering the pads to schools in the semi-rural area of Mombasa. The project also provided reproductive and menstrual education to girls and women in the community. Currently, Freedom4Girls provides menstrual products to 30 schools in the U.K. in order to increase girls’ abilities to go to school and participate in extracurricular activities while on their periods, since often, teachers are tasked with supplying menstrual products to their students. Freedom4Girls also works with community groups and other organizations fighting period poverty to host “Donation Stations” in order to collect menstrual products for other vulnerable groups, such as refugees.
  3. Dignity Period
    Dignity Period is a prime example of women’s empowerment and women’s health coming together to improve lives. In 2014, Fulbright Scholar Dr. Lewis Wall spent eight months improving residency education in gynecology and obstetrics at Mekelle University’s College of Health Sciences in Ethiopia. During his time there, he and his wife met Freweini Mebrahtu, owner of the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory. Seeing that period poverty was an issue that could be resolved through outreach, education and empowerment, Wall and Mebrahtu partnered to create Dignity Period. Today, Dignity Period partners with Mekelle University to conduct studies about the socioeconomic and cultural impact of periods and to provide education; at the same time, the nonprofit provides reusable menstrual pads to community members through Mebrahtu’s factory, which trains and employs women in the area.
  4. Days for Girls
    Days for Girls (DfG), like other organizations fighting period poverty, provides reusable menstrual products for girls in need. However, it is unique in the way its menstrual products are created and how they impact communities. Days for Girls has developed menstrual product kits that are provided to women and girls in need. Each DfG Kit is sewn by volunteer individuals or chapters and begins as a Portable Object of Dignity (POD). PODs include one waterproof shield and two absorbent liners and serve as gateways to the creation of small businesses for local women. PODs are extremely affordable and can be easily adapted to the needs of the customer, meaning that women in developing countries can use PODs to start and grow their own micro-enterprises selling DfG Kits. There are five kits currently distributed by Days for Girls: the POD, DfG POD Plus, Supreme DfG Kit, Heavy Flow DfG Kit and the Menstrual Cup Kit. Each kit contains reusable menstrual pads, a washcloth, a drawstring bag, panties and other essentials for a dignified period.

Women and girls around the world face the impacts of not having access to menstrual products and reproductive education. Absences from school, decreased opportunities for socioeconomic mobility and loss of dignity are only a few of the struggles faced by those living in period poverty. As a result, organizations fighting period poverty are taking a stand to empower these women and improve their futures.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Girls' Education in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is located in sub-Saharan Africa just west of Somalia. Poverty levels have been decreasing in the country since the early 2000s, but the female education levels are still struggling to raise their percentages. The main cause of the female dropout rate, menstruation, is high in pre-teen and early teen ages. Approximately one in ten girls in Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa as a whole begin missing school during their menstruation cycles. The total amount of days missed adds up to an average of around twenty percent of the school year. Girls miss school during this time because of lack of access to proper menstruation hygiene products. Many girls drop out during this time while those who stay struggle to keep up in their studies. Because of this, one company aims to protect girls’ education in Ethiopia.

Stigma Attached with Menstruation

The UNICEF records that the topic of a women’s menstruation is not taught in most schools and girls do not talk with each other about it, either. Along with these factors, sanitary hygiene for women is expensive or unavailable, and more than half of Ethiopian women do not have access to the necessary menstrual supplies needed to manage their periods. Instead, most girls use dried grass or rags to deal with their periods.

Dignity Period and Freweini Mabrahtu

The company advocating practically for girls’ education in Ethiopia is called Dignity Period. Its founders are Dr. Lewis Wall and his wife. The company receives its products from the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, which is run by Freweini Mebrahtu. Mebrahtu designed a fully washable pad that can last up to two years and costs around ninety percent less than a year’s worth of disposable pads. The pads have cotton linings and waterproof backings, and they are secured to underwear with a small button and come in a discreet package that folds securely to keep them clean. Mebrahtu claims that in Ethiopia, most girls do not speak of their periods because it is considered a taboo subject and is particularly shameful.

Education on Menstruation

Not only does Mebrahtu run the factory that produces these reusable pads, but she also educates students on women’s menstruation. Her goal is to defeat the stigma around a women’s period so that girls can feel comfortable and safe about their bodies’ natural processes. Mebrahtu also educates boys for this reason. She holds an educated gathering of students at school where she teaches boys and girls about the naturalness of a woman’s period. Afterward, Mebrahtu teaches individual girls how to use the pads and keep themselves clean during their periods.

Changing the ways in which society thinks about a woman’s period is how Dignity Period is influencing girls’ education in Ethiopia. Mebrahtu wants girls to no longer feel ashamed about their body’s natural processes and to give them the freedom and ability to stay in school and be able to achieve their dreams.

– Chelsea Wolfe
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty
With pertinent issues like gender-based violence and discrimination coming to the forefront, period poverty is becoming a key aspect of fighting gender inequality globally. Period poverty, another key facet that one can classify as the feminization of poverty, is the inaccessibility and lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products and supplies for women and girls.

The Status Quo of Period Poverty

Even though period poverty is a significant issue to tackle, unlike other women’s issues and struggles, the stigma attached to period and menstruation remains a rather strong barrier to remediating the problem. In May 2018, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) reported on the menstrual stigma and taboo in East and Southern Africa, highlighting impacts like women’s health risks and human rights violations.

Among developing countries, in particular, the stigma against menstruation deeply entrenches in culture and religion as the taboo regarding periods has been a long-term stigma for many years. The patriarchal dominance that continues to exist among communities across the world is aggravating the problem further.

For example, countries like Nepal still practice Chhaupadi, which is a regressive yet common practice where women must confine themselves to a specific part of the house during their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, over 60 percent of teachers in Sri Lanka perceived menstrual blood as impure in some way. Women and girls in sub-Saharan African countries also face the impacts of this issue.

Impacts on Education

Most importantly, period poverty can be a major social impediment to girl’s education as young girls from poorer social-economic backgrounds often miss a lot of school as they face difficulties in coping with their cycle.

According to a 2014 study conducted by UNESCO, one in every 10 girls face menstrual problems and have to miss out on school. Often women and girls use mud, leaves, paper and animal skins to stem menstrual flow as resources are often scarce. In countries like Sri Lanka, pads and other sanitary products often receive a heavy tax, despite the fact that the taxation on menstrual products has decreased to around 63 percent in recent years.

Current Progress and Initiatives

Yet, more recently, in a revolutionary move, India’s Supreme Court was proud to declare a renouncement of the ban on menstruating women, citing not only its constitutional immorality but also the religious and social constraints it imposes on women. The announcement stated that the state had the duty to protect and safeguard the rights and freedoms of women.

Additionally, Alstons Marketing Company Limited (AMCO) recently embarked on the End Poverty Initiative to distribute over 115,000 pads to girls in Trinidad and Tobago. The Kenyan government is offering assistance to girls by subsiding menstrual hygiene products and removing the imposition of the VAT (Value Added Tax).

The U.K. has additionally launched a global fund to eliminate period poverty by the year 2050. The government is pledging over 2 million pounds to aid international organizations and assist in other global initiatives to tackle the stigma associated with menstruation and the period taboo.

As advocacy and awareness-building remain pivotal, May 28 is now Menstrual Hygiene Day. Globally, organizations like Period Equity are helping to bridge the gaps and make menstrual hygiene and care more affordable.

Community-based initiatives and grassroots activities may be a long-term solution to the problem. The provision of WASH services is also essential as it ensures greater menstrual hygiene and will eliminate health risks among communities by monitoring waste management systems and building functional toilets.

Preventing the debilitation of period poverty is of paramount importance for future social development and progress to improve the overall status of women. It will help solve other associated issues like girl’s education, mobility and health care and ensure greater participation of women in the economy and the workforce.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Scotland
Scotland is a high-income country and is among the richest countries in the world. However, poverty has been increasing over the past several years. It has especially impacted women leading to period poverty in Scotland.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty is when women do not have access to sanitary products that are essential for day-to-day use like tampons and pads. Women living in poverty often have to make a choice between other necessities and sanitary products. Because of this, despite being a high-income country, many women in Scotland are still unable to afford basic sanitary products.

Period Poverty Surveys

In 2017, the Free Period Scotland campaign launched a survey with twelve questions in order to determine the scope of period poverty in Scotland. Though the pool was limited, of 747 respondents, 8 percent stated that they had limited access to sanitary supplies, 20 percent said that periods had impacted their day-to-day life such as affecting their education as well as other activities, and 4 percent said that they did not have access to any sanitary products.

Other surveys have indicated that the problem may be even greater. According to a survey of more than 2,000 people, conducted by the organization called Young Scot, that included people in varying levels of educational institutions, one in four women have difficulty accessing necessary sanitary products. Of those who participated in the survey, 70 percent have had to use alternatives such as toilet paper in place of sanitary products.

Initiatives to End Period Poverty in Scotland

Last year, the Scottish government established a six-month trial program in the city of Aberdeen. This program was run by the Community Food Initiatives North East. The goal of this trial was to find improved methods of providing free sanitary products to people living on lower incomes. After the pilot had begun, it was expanded to include several educational institutions in order to provide access for students, as well. Through this trial, more than 1,000 women were given free sanitary products.

Due to the success of the trial in Aberdeen, the government is funding an initiative to fight period poverty in Scotland and provide sanitary supplies to women from lower-income households. More than 500,000 euros will be given to the charity FareShare in the hopes of helping essential sanitary products become available to more than 18,000 people. Scotland will be the first country to create a program that gives free sanitary products to women.

The government’s new initiative will not only fight period poverty in Scotland but also represents the first step toward eliminating the stigma and difficulties that accompany menstruation. By providing access to sanitary products to those living on low income and to students in educational institutions, Scotland is changing the lives of thousands of women.

In the coming years, this new program may provide an example to other countries and other programs that will help women of all socioeconomic levels across the world.

– Lindabeth Doby
Photo: Flickr