Period Poverty in Indonesia
Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia and the world’s third-largest democracy. It is a nation of economic and cultural crossroads, yet the country has made little progress in women’s health, rights and education. One can define period poverty as inadequate access to hygienic, proper menstrual products and proper menstrual education. The prevalence of period poverty in Indonesia continues to lead to discrimination against girls and adversely affects their health, education quality and empowerment. However, some are making progress towards ending the stigma and improving menstrual health management (MHM) for the 24 million adolescent girls who have or will soon reach menarche in Indonesia.

Overview of Period Poverty in Indonesia

Women and girls in Indonesia face numerous challenges during menstruation. They often have poor access to comprehensive information about menstruation, lack of appropriate materials to manage menstrual bleeding, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities (WASH) and harmful socio-cultural taboos. These barriers engender reproductive health risks, low self-esteem among adolescent girls and school-drop out and absenteeism, cultivating vast gender disparities within Indonesia.

Access to Resources

In Indonesia, commercial products, such as tampons and pads, are much less available and are prohibitively expensive. In Indonesian culture, there are many misconceptions surrounding tampon use leading to loss of virginity and blocking the menstrual flow. As a result, women and girls rarely use them. After disposable pads, reusable cloths were the next most frequently used sanitary item, and these were more commonly used in rural areas. It is common for young girls to make their own absorbent hygiene products at home, using materials such as cloths or towels, leaves, newspaper, tissue paper, sponges, sand, ashes and others. Greater access to menstrual products as well as information about menstrual hygiene and management is necessary in Indonesia, and especially in rural communities.

The Stigma and Lack of Knowledge About Menstruation

Many Indonesian communities commonly view periods as dirty and not socially acceptable to discuss. UNICEF Indonesia found that 25% of adolescent girls had not discussed menstruation with anyone before first menses and 17% were not aware that menstruation was a physical sign of puberty. Furthermore, cultural taboos persist in disposing of menstrual products: 78% of girls and mothers washed their disposable pads before wrapping them in a plastic bag and then finally disposing of them. They explained that they washed disposable pads because they considered menstrual blood dirty and wanted to remove the smell and prevent others from discovering that they were menstruating.

Along with the lack of open communication about periods, data from Plan International has shown that many female students do not receive the correct information on how to manage their hygiene and health during menstruation. In the UNICEF study, only two-thirds of urban girls and less than half (41%) of rural girls changed absorbent materials at least every four to eight hours or whenever the material was soiled. Nearly all of the girls interviewed reported that they never or rarely changed materials at school, due to shame and embarrassment about having their period.

Impact on Education

About 80% of girls reported as missing one to two days of school during their last menstruation. School absenteeism due to periods induces large gender disparities in the quality of education. Girls lack the ability to manage menstruation hygienically in most Indonesian schools. In 2015, UNICEF Indonesia conducted a study that found that nearly every girl never changed menstrual pads or cloths at school due to a lack of suitable latrines, inadequate water for washing pads, uncertainty about how to dispose of pads or lack of discrete means of disposal. Fear of others finding out they were menstruating also contributed to girls not bringing pads to school and reluctance to dispose of soiled pads in school bins where other students could see them. Improving MHM among adolescent girls in Indonesia and implementing effective MHM interventions in school is key in ending the stigma and disparities that periods elicit.

PERIOD Indonesia

Despite these barriers, people are taking many strides towards ending period poverty. One teen, A 16-year-old Indonesian youth activist, Alisha Syakira Triawan, founded the Jakarta chapter of PERIOD in October 2019,  in an effort to end the stigma around periods and eliminate period poverty in her conservative community. In an interview with the Malala Fund, Alisha called on the government, schools and families to “provide menstrual education in communities and schools” to address the gender and health disparities that periods incite. She has also led her chapter in participating in Women’s March Jakarta 2020, where it distributed pads to those in the homeless and young girls who could not access or afford menstrual products.

In addition to Alisha’s advocacy work with PERIOD Jakarta, Plan International Indonesia has been working to destigmatize periods and increase educational resources available in Indonesia since 2017. Collaborating with local school committees and government agencies, Plan International Indonesia is implementing a menstrual hygiene management program across five schools in Ende district, Indonesia. When the MHM program first emerged in schools, communities were uneasy and apprehensive to discuss such tabooed topics. However, students were thankful to learn about these topics. Keeping children informed about reproductive health issues leads to a more inclusive and safe environment for girls in schools.

UNICEF and the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars

Following UNICEF’s stance that “no adolescent girl or woman anywhere should be denied the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified, healthy way,” in 2018, it implemented a comprehensive initiative in Indonesia to address period poverty. UNICEF teamed up with the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars and is currently developing tools and guidance for girls on period health and hygiene based on religious teachings. It is empowering boys and girls with knowledge about MHM creatively through a storybook to provide education about menstrual hygiene and puberty through classrooms throughout the country.

Ending Gender Disparities and Empowering Girls

Promoting menstrual equity is fundamental to supporting women and young girls. The tenacity of girls in Indonesia fused with the work of organizations, such as UNICEF and Plan International Indonesia, are aiding in breaking down the stigma and cultural barriers oppressing young women. Yet, there is still much more that people can do to curtail period poverty in Indonesia. Indonesia and the world must eradicate period poverty to empower women and girls, and allow them to fully participate in all aspects of society.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Bangladesh
The right to hygienic menstruation products may seem like something everyone might agree with. However, this is not the case for millions of women and girls globally. Today, there are about 500 million women and girls suffering from period poverty worldwide. Period poverty does not only pose a huge health risk, but it also affects girls’ whole livelihood.

In Bangladesh, period poverty is visible throughout communities, as many people see menstruation products as a privilege rather than a right. Moreover, approximately 95% of the female population cannot afford sanitary pads, leading to illnesses and increased absences from school or work. The cultural beliefs and social norms place an enormous burden on menstruating women, limiting their participation in the community and preventing real progress from occurring. Here is some information about menstruation and period poverty in Bangladesh.

Education

In Bengali culture, society believes that menstruation is an evil and shameful thing. For example, the women of the northern Bangladesh village, Char Bramagacha menstruate in secret. Women, fearing that evil spirits will attach to their blood, bury their old menstrual cloths in the ground and wash the new cloths before anyone in the village is awake. This behavior is not unique to just this village. The taboos around menstruation are ubiquitous throughout the country and culture. Shopna, a 14-year old Bengali girl, describes being taught that while menstruating, “Hindu girls can’t touch cows or even the cow-shed because cows are holy.”

With only 6% of schools in Bangladesh providing menstrual hygiene education, the immense shame regarding menstruation remains stagnant. Many girls are unaware of how to properly manage their period, while 36% of girls are oblivious about what a period is. Ultimately, this lack of information leads to one in four girls skipping school during their period. By increasing education about menstruation, girls can become more aware of their natural cycles, learn to properly manage them and lessen the shame that comes with menstruating.

WASH Facilities

There are many different layers to menstruation health management, including proper facilities, hygienic products and access to menstruation information. A survey by the World Bank uncovered that on average, Bangladesh households have a challenging time of satisfying all needs for proper menstruation hygiene. In fact, only 23% of women used proper menstrual products. Instead, most of the female population reuses old cloths that they frequently improperly wash or dry, resulting in a higher risk of urinary infections. A lack of hygienic latrines places another burden on women who try their best to hide the fact that they menstruate. In the village Char Bramagacha, there are only 22 hygienic toilets in comparison to the 308 unhygienic ones. These toilets often comprise of bamboo and cloth and do not offer any privacy for women to regularly change their menstrual cloths. Because of the lack of hygiene and privacy, many women miss school or work.

3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty

  1. Bangladesh WASH Alliance: The Bangladesh WASH Alliance works to promote inclusive and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services. In the past six years, the organization has been able to grant 248,837 people access to improved sanitation facilities and 229,989 people with improved water resources. By providing access to hygienic facilities, women have a lesser chance of health risks and absences. The WASH Alliance is also working towards improving gender inequality by expanding women’s social participation and gender-equal practices in WASH businesses.
  2. PERIOD: To combat period poverty and the stigma around menstruation, high schoolers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand established PERIOD, a nonprofit organization that offers homeless women proper menstrual products. As of today, PERIOD has been able to assist approximately 1.2 million women in accessing the proper products for a safe, hygienic period cycle.
  3. Resurgence: Resurgence, founded by three university activists, is another organization working to combat period poverty within Bangladesh. This group has distributed and produced low-cost menstruation pads for thousands of women and girls. Resurgence has achieved this by utilizing an otherwise invasive plant called the water hyacinth as its primary material. It also employs women from these communities to handle the production and distribution of its water hyacinth pads throughout slums, rural areas and other affected locations.

Although societal beliefs place a big burden on the fight against period poverty, Bangladesh is still stepping in the right direction by increasing education about menstrual health and placing international support on gender inequality. Ultimately, the most effective way to combat period poverty has been through foreign aid with a focus on eliminating improper hygiene facilities and misinformation.

– Maiya Falach
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in TanzaniaMenstruation is a natural and essential part of human life. For women facing period poverty in Tanzania, lack of access to menstrual management products and sanitation facilities can result in lost opportunities for work or education.

Periods and Poverty

Over 50% of the Tanzanian population does not have access to improved sanitation and clean drinking water is often limited. Without access to menstrual hygiene products, information and adequate sanitation services, women and girls are at risk for poor physical or reproductive health. Lack of proper sanitation contributes to lower girls’ attendance in school and limits opportunities and potential for women in Tanzania.

Fighting Period Stigma

Ending the taboo around menstruation is an important step toward ending period poverty. There is a lot of misinformation about periods and Tanzanian women are made to feel ashamed about themselves and their bodies. Due to period stigma, girls are often ridiculed when their periods catch them off guard.

Education on menstrual and reproductive health is one of the most empowering tools to combat period poverty in Tanzania. Many organizations have made it their mission to end gender-based discrimination and destigmatize female hygiene. For example, the Maji Safi Group aims to teach young girls to embrace their bodies and help them reach their fullest potential as academics and as mothers. The organization’s comprehensive approach includes community outreach, after school programs, employing Tanzanian women as community health educators and providing learning materials.

Affordable Products

Managing menstruation is expensive and disposable sanitary products are a luxury that vulnerable women in Tanzania cannot afford. In recent years, world leaders have committed to creating change in the country by investing in the menstrual hygiene product industry. For instance, the World Bank partnered with an entrepreneurial enterprise called WomenChoice, which manufactures and distributes affordable menstrual hygiene products. WomenChoice further empowers women from low-resource backgrounds by offering vendor, sales agent and volunteer positions. The micro-enterprise serves as a model for other organizations seeking to keep girls in school and end period poverty in Tanzania.

Impact of COVID-19

The closing of schools in Tanzania due to the COVID-19 pandemic may compound the challenges of period poverty throughout the country. Worldwide disruptions limit access to essential sanitary products in the country as well as information about sexual and reproductive health. However, UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, has made the fight against period poverty an essential part of their pandemic response efforts by maintaining open access to its centers, information and services in the country during COVID-19.

Continuing the Fight Against Period Poverty

The government of Tanzania has partnered with UNICEF and pledged to dramatically increase access to sanitation over the next five years. This step will not only help keep girls in school but also help them reach their fullest potential and escape period poverty. While there is still much more work to be done, ongoing efforts by the government, international partners, communities and organizations help make a brighter future possible for Tanzanian girls and women.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Period PovertyPeriod poverty, a significant issue around the world, is an umbrella term that describes inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products, washing facilities, waste management and education. This lack of access impacts women and girls in Namibia, sometimes hindering their health and education. However, Eco-Sanitary Training, a local business, is stepping in to help.

Worldwide Period Poverty

Globally, there are 2.3 billion people that live without basic sanitation. 73% live in homes without sufficient hand-washing facilities. This exacerbates period poverty, as it makes it almost impossible for women and girls to manage their periods.

In many places around the world, menstruation products are very hard to access due to high prices. Although these products are a necessity, many countries still tax them. In Hungary, the tax rate on feminine hygiene products in 2020 is 27%, followed by Sweden and Mexico with 25% and 16% respectively. Some of the countries where female sanitary items are tax-free include Ireland, Malaysia, Tanzania and Lebanon.

An example of how feminine hygiene products affect women can be seen through the story of Suzana Frederick, a 19-year-old single mother who lives at Arusha, Tanzania. Frederick makes around 30,000 shillings ($13) monthly and spends between 1,500 and 3,000 shillings ($0.70 to $1.30) on sanitary products. The amount she spends on the products is  5% to 10% of her salary. This would be equivalent to an American woman with an average wage spending around $169 and $338 for sanitary products.

Period Poverty in Namibia

Period poverty has many consequences for women and girls in Namibia. According to Action Aid, “One in 10 girls in Africa miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products, or because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school.” Many women and girls are also forced to use mattresses, clothes and newspapers every month because they cannot afford sanitary products.

A story from a girl who lives in Namibia reveals that she chose to get a contraceptive injection because her mother couldn’t afford pads. Contraceptive injections – a birth control method of releasing hormones like progesterone to stop the release of an egg – are free in all governmental hospitals in Namibia. Unfortunately, the injections have side effects, including significant bone mineral density loss, and are not intended for regulating menstruation. Another girl, also from Namibia, mentioned that dating older men is the only option that some girls have to get the money needed to afford pads.

How a Local Business Has Helped

Eco-Sanitary Trading is a local business in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Around March 4, 2019, the business joined the local market to make affordable pads that are high in quality and can also be reused or discarded. The managing director of the business, Naomi Kefas, mentioned that she got the idea from the realization of the fact that many girls are missing school frequently due to their periods.

For two years, Kefas and her team did extensive research and traveled to places including South Africa, Kenya, India and China to invent a new sanitary pad. They then came up with a product called “Perfect Fit,” a locally produced sanitary pad with good quality and affordability. “Perfect Fit” is benefiting women and girls in Namibia.

Moving Forward

The work that Eco-Sanitary Trading is essential to reducing period poverty in Namibia. However, it is essential that the government and other humanitarian organizations also step in. Moving forward, other barriers to menstrual hygiene products and facilities must be reduced, including high tax rates.

Alison Choi
Photo: Unsplash

period poverty
Period poverty is an umbrella term that refers to the inaccessibility of feminine hygiene products, education, washing facilities and waste management, especially for menstruators with low incomes. Menstruators who lack the education or access to resources for safe period management often resort to risky methods such as using rags and clothing, which can lead to bacterial infections that can cause further physical health risks.

Today, there are over 800 million women and girls that have periods every day, yet they still face difficulties to properly manage their menstruation. According to UNICEF, 2.3 billion people across the globe live without basic sanitation services in developing countries. Meanwhile, 73% of people lack access to proper handwashing facilities at home.

COVID-19 affects menstrual health and hygiene by exacerbating pre-existing inequalities regarding period poverty worldwide.

COVID-19 and Period Poverty

As stated by Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International U.K., “the virus is making the situation worse. We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on family finances all over the world, but now we see that girls and women are also facing widespread shortages and price hikes on period products, with the result that many are being forced to make do with whatever they can find to manage their period.”

The disruption of global supply chains and ceased trading of smaller-scale private sector enterprises has led to product shortages. This shortage is the primary issue affecting women’s access to safe sanitary products. The price of sanitary products has also increased during the pandemic. It is extremely hard for families to afford these products since the pandemic has also affected household incomes.

“As most shops have run out, I sometimes have to substitute in different ways instead,” said a teenage girl from the Solomon Islands.

“Prices went up as soon as there was a confirmed case of COVID19 in Fiji. Sometimes I have to forgo buying hygiene products as money will have to be used on food and bills,” said a young woman in Fiji.

Stigmatization of Menstruation

Most of the world stigmatizes menstruation. Social stigmas and taboos about menstruation is another key factor that prevents women and girls from properly managing their periods. In Nepal, people perceive menstruating women as impure. Their community expels them to huts for the duration of their cycles. In Uganda, non-governmental agency WoMena showed that many girls skip school when they are on their periods. The primary reason: to avoid teasing from classmates.

Since the rise of COVID-19, some people have associated menstruation as a sign of illness. Although having periods is normal and healthy, there are myths stating that menstruation is a symptom of the coronavirus and that menstruators have a higher chance of infecting others. These myths are badly affecting period poverty by increasing the stigma of menstruation. The negative perceptions of menstruation, such that it is a symptom of an illness and that it should be something to hide from others, should change in order to stop period poverty.

A young woman from the Solomon Islands said “Sometimes [I feel shame]. Especially when I am not able to clean myself during water cuts. I feel embarrassed to walk around my family.”

Organizations Making a Difference

I Support The Girls is an organization that collects and distributes bras and menstruation products to people who need them around the globe. The organization mentioned that it has seen a 35% increase in requests for menstrual products, bras and underwear since the outbreak of the virus. In response, the organization collected and distributed over 2,000,000 products, partnered up with businesses to distribute surplus inventory, and more.

Plan International U.K. is another organization that fights period poverty; it distributes menstrual hygiene kits to support women and girls disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Alison Choi
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in Venezuela
Having access to menstrual products is essential to a woman’s life. Lacking these products can interrupt women’s daily schedules, including their education and work. As Venezuela’s economy declines, many Venezuelan women are unable to afford feminine products. Period poverty in Venezuela is now a challenge that women must overcome by creating alternative menstrual products.

Venezuela’s Inflation Crisis

Two decades ago, Venezuela took pride in being Latin America’s richest economy, boasting the world’s largest oil reserves. However, the past two governments’ corruption, mismanagement and debts have led Venezuela’s economy to fall apart, causing many companies to stop working and leading to hyperinflation and shortages of many products and basic services.

Feminine hygiene products did not escape this economic crisis. Today, these products are so expensive that many women cannot afford them. Two packs of pads can consume up to a third of a women’s minimum salary, according to a 2018 source. Plafam, an association for family planning in Venezuela, stated that 90% of medicine and healthcare products are in shortage. Many women cannot afford to spend their salary on menstrual products when they also need to buy other essentials. Forced to choose between food or tampons, many women are looking for other affordable options.

Creative Solutions to Period Poverty

In an interview with Voice of America, a young woman named Desiree Rodriguez said that instead of pads, she uses pieces cut from old sheets of cotton and plastic bags. Other women are using similar methods to tackle period poverty in Venezuela. Raquel Pérez said that she can buy either pads for herself or diapers for her children; she chooses to buy diapers and handcraft her own pads.

VICE interviewed women in Venezuela who invented similar ways to deal with menstruation. America Villegas, a past vice-chancellor of the National Experimental University of the Arts, is making her own pads. In 2016, Villegas decided to quit using the low-quality pads that were — and still are — flowing on the market. “They gave me horrible irritation and allergies,” Villegas said.

With her teenage daughter and mother, Villegas began creating ecological pads made of fabric, cotton and plastic, which she sells through MercadoLibre, an online marketplace. Her pads are washable and reusable. Despite a myth that reusable pads are bad for women’s health, according to Women’s Health Magazine, they are safe if cleaned correctly. However, many Venezuelan families lack access to clean water, soap or detergent.

Lahaie Luna Lezama

Three young women decided to tackle period poverty in Venezuela in another way. In 2018, Marianne Lahaie Luna, Véronique Lahaie Luna and Rosana Lezama founded Lahaie Luna Lezama, an NGO dedicated to improving access to menstrual products and rights in Venezuela.

These women partnered with Plafam to distribute an alternative to pads: the menstrual cup. Because of taboo and myths around menstruation in Venezuela, most women are disinclined to use tampons or products like a menstrual cup. But with proper education about women’s health and the sustainable use of menstrual cups — which women can use for up to seven years — women in Venezuela are now using these products as another solution to period poverty.

In 2019, Lahaie Luna Lezama started collaborating with a Colombian organization called CEPAZ, reaching out to Venezuelan women who migrated to Colombia. Because of their uncertain legal status, these women are prone to sexual exploitation and solicitation, lower-wage jobs and poverty. Lahaie Luna Lezama distributed around 400 menstrual and sexual kits to these women, as well as many women in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.

Conclusion

Period Poverty in Venezuela causes a great deal of distress. The government has not adequately addressed the importance of menstrual and sexual products. The lack of these products obstructs Venezuelan women’s education and work. Innovative women are introducing creative, handcrafted and sustainable solutions to period poverty in Venezuela, but widespread change is necessary to improve the lives of women who cannot afford traditional menstrual products.

Alannys Milano
Photo: Flickr

Sisters Tackle Period Poverty in FijiTwo teenage sisters are working to tackle period poverty in Fiji. AnnMary and Faith Raduva, 16- and 13-year-old sisters, launched the Lagilagi Relief Campaign to help people who are unable to afford sanitary pads and tampons. In the aftermath of the recent Cyclone Harold and the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sisters noticed a shortage of sanitary pads had resulted in a spike in prices. The sisters started their campaign so that everyone who needed period products would be able to get them, regardless of their financial struggles.

The Current State of Period Poverty in Fiji

Though Fiji has experienced fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19, the global pandemic has impacted Fiji’s tourism industry, in which approximately 17% of native Fijians work. Since the pandemic, imports to the island nation have decreased, and Fijian women report that the cost of pads has gone up FJD $3, or 1.39 USD. This makes them more difficult to purchase, especially on a minimum wage salary.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only disaster Fijians have faced in 2020. In April, Cyclone Harold ravaged Fiji as a category four tropical storm. The cyclone caused major flooding and destroyed homes, schools and farms on multiple Fijian islands, including Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji.

AnnMary Raduva said to Radio New Zealand that, for people who are currently out of work, free period products mean they can save those valuable dollars to purchase other necessities for their families. The Raduva sisters told the station that no one should have to choose between food for their loved ones or menstrual products.

How the Lagilagi Relief Campaign Is Helping

Since the cyclone, the Raduva sisters have put together over 300 of their “dignity kits,” each containing two packages of menstrual products, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of soap. When they began, the sisters used solely their own time and money to compile the dignity kits, but they have since received donations from supporters and loved ones to help with their campaign.

The sisters also caught the attention of Asaleo Care Fiji, an Australian-based hygiene company that produces Libra-brand pads and tampons. The company donated over one thousand menstrual products to the Lagilagi Relief Campaign. Thanks to generous donations like these, the Lagilagi Relief Campaign will produce an additional 600 dignity kits for people struggling with period poverty in Fiji.

The Next Steps to End Period Poverty in Fiji

Though the Lagilagi Relief Campaign has helped hundreds, AnnMary Raduva is still advocating for systematic change to get to the root of period poverty in Fiji. She wrote in an opinion piece in the Fiji Sun, “Period poverty is widespread… and the taboo nature of menstruation prevents women and girls from talking about the problem.” Raduva praised New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for making menstrual pads free for all school-aged girls, and she encouraged Fiji and other countries to follow New Zealand’s lead.

In an interview with RNZ Pacific, Raduva stated that the Lagilagi Relief Campaign would continue to fight period poverty in Fiji. One way they hope to improve their dignity kits is by sewing washable pads to eliminate the need for disposable pads. Additionally, the sisters are taking their campaign to the government, asking Fijian leaders to invest in free sanitary care products for those who can’t afford them. This is in the hopes that period poverty in Fiji will no longer stand in the way of girls’ education and women’s rights.

– Jackie McMahon
Photo: Pixabay


New Zealand, a Pacific island country known for its beautiful waters and unique wildlife, is more than just a tropical paradise. By a recent estimate, New Zealand has the 48th highest GDP per capita in the world. Plus, the average New Zealander leaves school when they are between 18 and 19 years old, whereas in many other countries children leave school before they reach the age of 12. New Zealand also puts a relatively high proportion (9%) of the overall government budget toward healthcare.

Though New Zealand is by no means an impoverished country, thousands of women still suffer from a lack of access to sanitary products. An estimated 95,000 young girls in New Zealand don’t go to school during their period because they don’t have access to the necessary sanitary products. However, the government is currently working to move closer toward New Zealand’s solution to period poverty.

New Zealand’s Sanitary Product Problem

A lack of access to safe sanitary products during menstruation is defined as period poverty. Studies have shown that across the globe, one in four women struggle to purchase the products necessary to deal with their menstruation. When women don’t have access to tampons and pads, it can lead to devastating situations. Some women are unable to work or leave the house, or are even shamed for what their bodies are going through. This makes education, employment and other aspects of life very difficult for women — for about a week every month.

In New Zealand, close to 12% of school-age girls between the ages of 12 and 18 have difficulty or are unable to purchase sanitary products. More than that, close to 10% of girls reported that they had skipped school because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads.

The Plan

The number of school-age girls who were missing out on educational opportunities due to their menstrual cycle led New Zealand’s prime minister to take steps towards eradicating period poverty. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that period products were not a luxury but in fact a necessity for female students. In light of this, New Zealand’s government is using NZ$2.6 million to help relieve period poverty. Eventually, New Zealand hopes to eradicate period poverty, but funds will first go toward making sanitary products free for girls in 15 New Zealand schools.

New Zealand’s Future

The hope for this government initiative is that it will lead to having free sanitary products in all state schools by 2021. While this would be a huge step toward New Zealand’s solution to period poverty, there is still a long way to go. Dignity, a local organization that focuses on women’s rights and access to sanitary products, has voiced its appreciation and support for the government’s efforts to support women’s access to menstrual products.

However, Dignity also pointed out that there is still work to be done. Women throughout the country need access to sanitary products, not just girls in primary and secondary schools. Moreover, Arden’s period poverty initiative is just one part of a plan that aims to halve childhood poverty in the next 10 years. While it may not address every aspect of period poverty or childhood poverty, New Zealand’s plan is moving the country one step closer toward eliminating period poverty.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr

bathrooms and girls’ education in AfricaIn the developed world, private bathroom stalls and toilets are largely taken for granted, especially within schools. The issues of period poverty and girls’ education in Africa do not seem like topics that would be intertwined. However, they are in fact completely dependent on one another. Most period poverty efforts focus on access to sanitary products. While this is an incredibly important component, bathrooms within schools are just as important. Without a safe space to change them, the work of providing reusable sanitary napkins cannot work. These two factors have to work together. Here are facts to know about the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa.

What is Social Infrastructure and Why Is It Important?

Social infrastructure refers to facilities that include education, health and youth services that promote a high quality lifestyle. It is created with the public good in mind, and the intent to provide better outcomes for peoples’ livelihoods. It impacts the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa directly. Buildings with a socially-minded design make children, and especially girls, feel safe, included and acknowledged. It will keep them coming back to those places. 

Research explains the positive impact of infrastructure on communities in Africa to the intersectional issue of girls’ education. It shows how infrastructure is more than just buildings and highways. Creating a physical space where girls feel safe is crucial to their personal and educational development. Focusing on infrastructure has been proven to create a more equitable society, especially within rural communities. This is due to the lack of accessibility to resources that are more likely present within urban areas. 

The Link Between Menstrual Stigma and Girls’ Education

Girls’ education in Africa faces many obstacles. This is largely due to gender stereotypes that are at the root of unsafe learning environments. Twenty-three percent of girls of primary school age are not in school, and that number jumps to 36% as they get older and enter secondary school. Menstruation is a factor in the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa. When girls begin to menstruate, they are faced with many barriers. These may include temporary social ostracization, missed school days and sexual violence by peers. 

One in ten girls misses 20% of school days because they cannot attend during their menstrual cycle. This largely due to the fact that – if they have access to sanitary products – they do not have a place to change them once at school. This discourages many girls from attending in the first place, and too many missed days ultimately leads to higher drop out rates because they cannot end up falling behind. 

Why Toilets?

Only 57% of primary schools within the world’s least developed countries have single-sex bathrooms. The good news is that countries such as Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco and Mozambique have single-sex bathrooms in 80% of their primary schools. However, the work is far from complete given that some countries such as Eritrea only have these facilities in 27% of schools, and the lowest being only 9% in Senegal

The majority of sexual assault and rape incidents happen in school bathrooms because there is only one facility for all students with very little to no privacy. So along with embarrassment regarding using the restroom and changing their sanitary pads in front of male students, they feel incredibly unsafe walking into the bathroom. When girls do not have to worry about their hygiene and safety at school, they will be more likely to continue attending. Creating a safe environment is key to ensuring girls attend and stay in school. This can help break the cycle of gender disparity in education.  

Organizations Doing the Work

The state of girls’ education in Africa is being greatly improved by organizations that are funding initiatives and creating them. Taking notice of the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa can greatly aid these girls’ futures. The Global Partnership for Education partners with national governments to create “girl-friendly” sanitation facilities in order to improve girls’ education in Africa. Its grants to countries like Guinea and Cameroon enabled the building of separate bathrooms and water stations within schools. 

Programs like FRESH and WaterAid are coming together to ensure the creation of safe and healthy physical spaces for girls to learn. They are developing infrastructure plans that follow UNICEF and WHO guidelines. WaterAid established a list of components that should be a part of girl-friendly infrastructure. These include single-sex bathrooms with locks and privacy walls and any mechanism that can work as a disposal place for sanitary products. The availability of clean water within the bathroom is included in order to clean reusable sanitary napkins. It also includes a mirror (even if it is broken) so girls are able to check for any spots or stains before returning to the classroom. 

Why Should We Care?

The connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa is a topic that deserves abundant attention. Everyone benefits from educated girls. When half of the world’s population is being excluded from equal educational opportunities it creates a greater human capital issue. The skills and talents of these girls might never be seen simply because they are unable to gain any upward mobility due to a lack of education. So on the next World Toilet Day, November 19, remember how something as simple as a private bathroom stall can make a huge difference in the life of a young, African girl. 

Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr

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