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

Period Poverty in New Zealand
On June 3, 2020, the parliamentary government of New Zealand announced an initiative designed to combat one of the most pervasive but least discussed forms of poverty across the globe; period poverty. The initiative will provide free sanitary products (tampons and pads) through a school-based program in order to alleviate period poverty in New Zealand. The investment will start small in the Waikato region, the 11th poorest region in New Zealand.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty exists in nearly every country across the globe, albeit to varying degrees. No matter the location, one could easily find an individual who is struggling to pay for proper sanitary products. One can define period poverty as a lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities or proper waste management. Period poverty most commonly exists in developing but isolated nations.

Prime Minister Arden Answers the Call

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern brought the real facts of period poverty to the general public explaining how it affects the women and girls of not only New Zealand but also other countries across the globe. Expectations have determined that the government will roll out a NZ$2.6 million ($1.7 million) program providing free sanitary products through schools across the country. At first, the program will only exist in 15 schools in the Waikato district of New Zealand with plans to expand nationwide by 2021.

While New Zealand does not have a national index to measure the poverty levels of various communities, using a fixed-line analysis showed that roughly 15% of the total population of New Zealand lives in poverty. Similar to other products (unfortunately even medical ones), the price of sanitary products fluctuates fairly rapidly depending on the brand. On average the cost of a package of tampons in New Zealand is roughly NZ$5.50. With women typically having 480 periods throughout their lifetime, that brings the total long-term out-of-pocket cost to NZ$2,640 if the individual only buys Bargen tampons.

Eliminating Period Poverty in New Zealand

The New Zealand government believes that through this initiative, it can begin to cut childhood poverty by half in the next decade. At her speech on June 3, Prime Minister Ardern said that roughly 95,000 girls between the ages of 9-18 miss school and other activities due to lack of access to proper sanitary products.

One of the perceived and anticipated effects of this program would be to allow children the opportunity to continue with their daily activities despite their period. Providing free sanitary products and education on menstrual health will do just that, all the while ensuring that individuals experiencing period poverty do not have to make homemade tampons and pads out of non-sanitary household items.

Period poverty may not seem like an issue that could possibly affect many people around the globe. However, when considering the data surrounding the situation, 2.3 billion people globally do not have access to clean water and sanitary products. When one throws the price of a single pack of tampons into the equation for countless families struggling to put food on the table, the question becomes whether or not the family in question will be able to eat. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is all too obvious.

Fortunately, New Zealand is not the only country that has put forth legislation to provide free sanitary products. Both England and Scotland have recently written legislation providing free sanitary products through schools. The New Zealand government and the U.K. and Scottish governments have made huge strides in the right direction to provide proper sanitary products to families, taking a direct swing at childhood poverty and the afflictions that come with living in that economic bracket.

– Craig Bahnsen
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

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