The Republic of Vanuatu is an island in the South Pacific Ocean with a population of only 283,558 people. Of that, 49.1 percent are females. With no effective care and knowledge, addressing menstruation is taboo and handling it is more complex than usual. While it is one of the most important and common changes all women experience, women in Vanuatu are at their most vulnerable during their menstrual cycle. In fact, 75 percent of girls miss school for three to seven days per month when they are on their period due to the social stigma that girls are unclean and unfit to work around the house or go to school.
Girls’ Education in Vanuatu
Education is a main tool for success, but girls’ education in Vanuatu is not guaranteed. According to Spain Exchange, Vanuatu schools have the lowest attendance and enrollment rate in the Pacific because attending school in Vanuatu is not mandatory. Even when given the opportunity to go to school, girls don’t have the proper support system they need to finish because schools lack access to proper bathroom facilities, toiletries and feminine hygiene products. Eventually, girls are forced to drop out because they are falling behind from missing school, making it difficult to catch up with the rest of the class. To make matters worse, young girls can’t turn to their mothers for help because mothers barely understand what is happening to their own bodies.
When girls miss school, they are at home trying to use the little resources they have as menstrual pads, usually using rags or leaves. However, these methods are unreliable and unsanitary. Throughout this process, these young girls are feeling sad, ashamed and confused. Fortunately, there are several organizations that have created effective ways for the girls in Vanuatu to feel protected and clean at school during their menstrual cycle.
CARE for Girls’ Education in Vanuatu
CARE is an international humanitarian campaign that fights global poverty. To help girls in Vanuatu, CARE raised $20,349 to help over 300 girls in 10 different schools. Each girl received a hygiene kit filled with various feminine products including pads, washable and reusable pad liners, soap, laundry detergent and a bucket to wash her clothes and pads.
CARE Australia states that the pads are made by Mamma’s Laef, a Vanuatu business that employs local women. Mamma’s Laef sews reusable and eco-friendly pads that are expected to last up to four years for women all over the country. Australian ABC News reported that, at first, this company was making just a few kits a week, but after high demand for its products, business was booming and catching the attention of the government.
Now, Mamma’s Laef holds educational sessions and programs as part of girls’ education in Vanuatu to inform the students about the reproductive system and the natural changes the human body experiences. Girls learn about the menstrual cycle and how to handle it while boys are taught self-care and how to respect women in their country.
With the help and knowledge of organizations such as CARE and Mamma’s Laef, Vanuatu is one step closer to becoming a successful, self-sufficient country. The girls in Vanuatu prove every day that, with just the help and support of each other, anything is possible.
– Kristen Uedoi