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