3 Organizations Working to End Period Poverty in GuatemalaPeriod poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country’s women and girls. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls out of school for days at a time. As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they are met with a challenge. Specifically, their menstruation cycle. Not only is this a milestone in their personal lives but also a limitation. The lack of access to necessary feminine products forces girls to stay home for days. However, as technology evolves and resources are found, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days For Girls

Days For Girls commits the scope of its work to support young women throughout their lives. The organization begins this process by providing a Days For Girls Kit, education on proper self-care, training and general support for girls. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward normalizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of many necessary items for a woman’s period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users say the items can last up to three years. These kits have been made to use a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep women comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days For Girl also handmakes the kits and the bags they come in, giving them a touch of beauty and personality.

The impact of this organization is felt by many. Thus far, Days For Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach is spread across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand teams and chapters. The organization also has a main office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production.

GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project is a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ the local Guatemalan women as well as women in Guatemala. The organization develops and performs workshops and home visits in which educational materials on reproductive health and local resources are provided.

In addition to education, the GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable, and long-lasting. Included in the kit are fertility bracelets with instructions, hields for any leakage, flannel cotton pads, soap, a gallon bag for washing use and underwear.

The hard work of these volunteers speaks for itself. In the past year, 500 of the kits were given to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the organization has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The fertility bracelet included in the kit is especially empowering for women as it gives them the protection they need. Moreover, the bracelet is 85% effective as a life long contraception. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.

SERniña

Founder Danielle Skogen, a teacher, lived in Guatemala for three years. While teaching she began to notice a pattern. She found a need for health and sanitation education, in particular among the girls. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to educate young women and help end period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as:

  • Understanding Your Human Rights
  • Sexual & Menstrual Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Goal-setting

In the workshops, teachers empower young women to be confident and take care of their self-care needs. All of the organization’s lessons are taught by trained local women who are certified staff for SERniña. Ultimately, the program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love. As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

The efforts of these three organizations play an important role in ending period poverty in Guatemala. Education, access to resources and support are needed to help young women develop higher standards of living as ending period poverty will result in more girls staying in school. As the work to end period poverty in Guatemala continues, the government and non-profit organizations must help support local organizations like Days for Girls, the GRACE project and SERniña.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Guatemala As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they are met with a challenge: their menstruation cycle. Period poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls out of school for days at a time.  However, as technology evolves and resources are found, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days For Girls

Days For Girls commits to supporting women in girlhood and throughout the rest of their lives. The organization begins this process by providing a Days For Girls (DFG) Kit, education on hygiene and sanitation, training and general support. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward destigmatizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of a multitude of necessities for a period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users of the patented kit say the items can last up to three years. Specifically, these kits have been made to use a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep users comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days For Girl also hand makes the kits and the bags they come in, giving them a touch of beauty.

Thus far, Days For Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach is spread across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand mobilizing teams and chapters. Currently, they have over 15 countries with enterprises. Importantly, the group has an office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production in the country.

GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project stems from a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ the local Guatemalan women. The organization develops and implements workshops and home visits where they provide educational materials on reproductive health and local resources.

In addition to education, The GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable and long-lasting.

Included in the kit there are:

  • Fertility bracelets with instructions
  • Shields that are barriers for any leakage
  • Flannel cotton pads
  • Soap
  • Gallon bag for washing use
  • Underwear

In the past year, 500 of the kits were given to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the project has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The kit provides up to three years’ worth of period products and a lifetime of birth control. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.

SERniña

SERniña Founder, Danielle Skogen, lived in Guatemala for three years working as a teacher. During her time, she noticed a need for health and hygiene education. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to bring about curriculums to educate and help eradicate period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as:

  • Understanding Your Human Rights
  • Sexual & Menstrual Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Goal-setting

In the workshops, facilitators work with the women to be confident and take care of their hygienic needs. Trained local women who are certified facilitators for SERniña teach all of the organization’s lessons. The program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love.  As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

As shown above, the efforts of each organization play an important role in the Guatemalan community. Education, access and support truly uplift the local women. The work to eradicate period poverty in Guatemala can continue thanks to aid from organizations like these.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Female Health Care in KenyaPoverty affects genders differently, with women often being more disadvantaged than men. Meeting the strategic needs of those living in poverty must be accompanied by fulfilling practical gender needs. This will ensure equal access to economic progress for all. One NGO is working to fight gender discrimination by providing female health care in Kenya.

Girls in Danger

In the wake of COVID-19, mass closures of schools and businesses have further hindered the economic development of remote Kenyan districts. The strict COVID-19 guidelines implemented by local authorities have resulted in the closing of safe homes and centers for girls. The preoccupation with COVID-19 regulations led authorities to produce minimal effort to stop the violence against women and girls. On top of the pandemic, the country has fallen victim to other disasters. Extreme droughts and flooding, as well as a locust invasion, have lowered the food supply for rural areas.

These desperate circumstances have left low-income families with limited financial options. Some families have resorted to employing their young children and marrying off their daughters in exchange for money and cattle. This incites increased gender-based violence as child marriages leave girls vulnerable to sexual and physical violence.

Dr. Esho, who works on-site for Amref Health, said, “Including community systems in the prevention of and response to FGM/C (female genital mutilation and cutting) and child marriage is more important than ever. More women and girls are now at risk of harmful practices and gender-based violence.”

Centering Women in Health Care

Amref Health Africa is an NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya. It has been a crucial part of introducing health care services and technology to Sub-Saharan Africa. Established in 1957, the organization has a long history of bringing modern medicine to rural African communities.

Amref Health Africa is proving how female empowerment isn’t a silly social movement but a crucial factor in women’s livelihoods. The NGO dedicates much of its work to improving female health care in Kenya. Women often lack education on their sexual health, which impedes prudent, informed decisions regarding their futures. Advancements in female health care in Kenya can empower women to take control of their bodies and pregnancies. Additionally, it can offer better support to these women in their chosen paths.

Amref also aids women suffering from violence. Organization members, such as Dr. Esho, work jointly with local activists and health workers to construct a plan of action. The community members have firsthand knowledge and experience working with survivors of FGM/C and other cruelties, which Amref acknowledges and utilizes. Therefore, the NGO ensures victims are getting proper care and refuge from their abusive situations.

What We Can Do

Amref strives to bring awareness to gender-based violence and the positive effect of proper female health care in Kenya. With the hashtag #EndFGM, Amref is trying to engage international activists through social media. The organization is also accepting direct donations through its website.

One may feel powerless during times of international emergencies. However, that must not stop everyone from doing their part. Those who want to help can contact their congressmen and congresswomen as well as other representatives to protect the U.S.’s foreign aid budget. This will benefit NGOs, similar to Amref Health, that work closely with poor communities to identify unique problems and solutions.

Lizt Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in ChinaThe monthly cost of purchasing menstrual sanitary products is not a small amount for females worldwide. “Period Poverty” refers to the inability to afford access to pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. A campaign in China, is working on addressing period poverty for its girls and women. However, it still remains a women’s rights issue globally.

The General Problem

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) reports that around 10% of young women around the world are now unable to afford period protection. FIGO also found that 12% of women have to improvise with devices that are potentially ineffective and unsafe. According to UNICEF, there are more than 500 million females that lack a proper place to change their sanitary protection during their period. Period poverty causes long-term impacts of health and hygiene for girls and women. Time management, the chance of receiving education and employment are also affected by period poverty. All of these factors influence a woman’s lifelong development and wellbeing.

Period Poverty in China

The situation of period poverty in China is not much different. Many women and young girls, especially in rural areas, cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Instead of sanitary pads, impoverished women have to use toilet paper or old cloth. Any available yet unsafe materials on hand — even bark for some women in extreme poverty — are substituted to get through the period. Unfortunately, the lack of basic menstrual knowledge and the common menstruation taboo in China only worsen the situation. It is difficult and embarrassing to practice optimal hygiene with dignity in China. As a result, many girls in rural China skip classes or even leave school once they start menstruating.

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

In recent years, the Chinese public is growing more aware of period poverty in China. They are calling for more affordable sanitary products. Additionally, the public advocates for more humanitarian public health policies that take women’s biological needs into accounts. As of 2020, the Chinese government regulates a 13% sales tax on feminine sanitary products. That is 4% higher than the 9% tax for essential daily necessities such as grain, water and contraceptives.

Many other countries, including India and Malaysia, have either exempted or reduced the tax on sanitary products. They have done so for the sake of gender equality. In response, a couple of online campaigns emerged in China in the past few years. The campaigns appeal for a lower tampon tax in the country.

The “Stand by Her” Project

Before the national public health policy can ameliorate, some philanthropists and social organizations have jumped to the cause. They have stood up first to help the low-income women in underdeveloped regions. So far, the “Stand by Her” is one of the most well-known and large-scale projects that deal with period poverty in China.

Liang Yu Stacey, a 24-year-old Chinese feminist activist, initiated the “Reassurance for Sisters Fighting the Virus” online campaign in early 2020. She aimed to raise money to provide feminine sanitary products for the health care workers fighting against COVID-19. The project then extended to a broader scale and evolved into “Stand by Her.”

“Stand by Her” is a voluntary foundation that coordinates donation, procurement and distribution of hygiene products to under-age girls in impoverished provinces. The foundation regularly sends sanitary pads to women around China. In addition, the project also hands out brochures and holds lectures in middle schools to popularize menstruation and sex education. In the first phase of 2020-2021, the team continues to plan to help more than 6,000 girls from 33 schools across China. Within 3 days of opening the donation portals, “Stand by Her” raised 368,700 RMB (54,500 USD).

The online conversations, campaigns and donations display some positive signals in the area of menstruation. Feminine hygiene is gradually breaking away from the conventional social taboo. Reducing tax on women’s menstrual products would be a win for women’s rights in China.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

ChhaupadiChhaupadi, a form of menstrual taboo, plagues the country of Nepal. Although it is a social taboo in Hindi tradition, the practice of chhaupadi is often practiced in the far-western region of Nepal and in Himalayan regions. This is because the event of menstruation, although a normal and healthy bodily function for females, is considered a form of sin and impurity. Although menstrual taboo exists in other regions of Nepal and in other South Asian countries, it is most prevalent in the Himalayan regions. Here, it is called chhaupadi, “Chhau” meaning menstruation and “padi” referring to women.

What is Chhaupadi?

Chhaupadi occurs during the female menstruation cycle. While women and girls are menstruating, they are considered impure, intouchable, and even perhaps, harbingers of bad fortune. During the menstruation cycle, any object a woman touches is deemed impure, including livestock, water resources and plants. It is believed that if touched, these objects need to be purified in some way. As a result, in regions where Chhaupadi is practiced, women are banished from their homes. During this exile, women and girls are often sent to a “chhau” shed, which is essentially a livestock shed, and the menstruating female will remain there for about four days. Girls who are experiencing menstruation for the first time may need to stay in the “chhau” for up to 14 days. Unfortunately, girls who may experience difficulties or health issues while menstruating must wait until their cycle ends before seeking medical care, which can worsen possible health problems and symptoms.

Even if women are not directly practicing menstrual exile, a 2018 study by sociologist Saruna Ghimire at Miami University found that 100% of girls are restricted by menstrual taboos during their cycles. These women are not allowed to touch food, touch the water tap or participate in normal family activities. The menstrual taboo restricts the resources available, limiting the autonomy of women and possibly damaging their self-image. Additionally, the Ghimire study found that 72% of females are subjected to menstrual exile due to Chhapuadi.

The Dangers of Menstrual Exile

Not only is the stigma associated with menstruation a problem within these communities but the actual practice of Chhaupadi poses many health risks for the women and girls involved. For instance, the temporary shelters used during Chhaupadi are unhygienic, which increases the risk of health complications such as urinary tract infections, diarrhea, dehydration and hypothermia. Additionally, women and girls living in these sheds are subject to the dangers of snake bites and other animal attacks.

Each year, at least one woman or girl dies during menstrual exile. These cases often go unnoticed by the media, leaving the beliefs of community members unchanged. Moreover, the isolation that comes with Chhaupadi poses dangerous consequences to the mental health of these females. Oftentimes, these women and girls will feel abandoned, insecure, guilty and embarrassed.

Law Prohibiting Chhapuadi

In 2017, the Nepali Government enacted a new law that prohibits Chhapuadi. Any family member that forces a female to practice Chhaupadi can be punished with a jail sentence of three months or fined 3,000 rupees, which translates to about $30. Although the Nepal Supreme Court previously banned Chhapuadi in 2005, the practice has been difficult to disintegrate as it is deeply rooted in traditional beliefs. Besides the legislative component, local police are given the task of destroying Chhapuadi shelters. At the same time, some activists argue that Chhapuadi, although rooted in the patriarchal aspects of Nepali culture, will be difficult to stop as many women choose to practice it. Yet, with the new law, women who choose to practice Chhapuadi are required to do so in a safer way, by isolating themselves from their families in a separate area or room and not a shed.

The Road Ahead

Although Chhaupadi stems from Hindu scripture, the practice is one that has existed for centuries. Thus, the actual practice of menstrual exile may not stop right away. Luckily, the Nepalese Government has made strides in reducing Chhaupadi through the law and police action, and if Chhaupadi is practiced by choice, it will be done in a much safer way.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual StigmaMillions of women and girls around the globe are affected by period poverty every day. Countless women must choose between food and menstrual products. Due to insufficient access to menstrual products and/or menstrual stigma, schoolgirls often miss school when they are on their periods. Some teenagers even use unhygienic insoles of shoes to substitute menstrual products, which may lead to further physical health risks due to bacterial infections. Moreover, other women resort to free contraceptive injections (which stops the release of an egg) when they cannot afford menstrual products. This, in turn, leads to health risks such as significant bone mineral density loss.

People widely consider period poverty as insufficient access to menstrual products. While this accounts for a major portion of period poverty, the term also refers to issues of shame, menstrual stigma, and the lack of education about menstruation. Around 50% of girls in the U.K. experience menstrual shame and around 70% of girls in Uganda are embarrassed and fearful about menstruating.

Access to Period Products Worldwide

Globally, a minimum of 500 million women experiences period poverty, every month. Among the 355 million menstruators in India, 12% cannot afford period products. Similarly, 65% of females in Kenya are unable to afford menstrual products. Menstruation products are extremely difficult to access because of their high costs. This, even though these products are a necessity. They are perceived as luxury products to millions because many countries still do not accept the products as “daily necessities” and still have not abolished the value-added tax (VAT) on menstrual products. The 2020 tax rate on menstrual products in Hungary marked 27%, followed by Sweden with 25% and Mexico with 16%. Some of the countries that abolished VAT on menstrual products include Malaysia, Lebanon, Tanzania, Ireland among others.

Effects of Menstrual Stigma

Women and girls face period stigma every day. Menstrual stigma causes women and girls to feel embarrassment and shame about their healthy bodies. Furthermore, it keeps them at home when they should be at school — affecting their education and social life. In Nepal, the community expels menstruating women to huts when they are on their period cycles because menstruators are perceived as impure. In Uganda, 70% of girls feel embarrassed to be on their periods and are afraid of menstrual-related accidents. This fear is such that more than 50% of the population skips school to avoid teasing from classmates. In the U.K., 50% of girls feel ashamed of their periods. One anecdote shared that a girl and her classmates suffered great embarrassment when a male teacher taught them about menstruation.

The Pink Protest

Many nonprofit organizations are actively fighting against period poverty. Other than NGOs, period poverty activists create many campaigns that also work toward ending period poverty. Based in the U.K., The Pink Protest works with period poverty activists on the #FreePeriods campaign, to “call on the British government to put an end to British period poverty.” A teenage activist, Amika George, initiated the #FreePeriods campaign in 2017 after she read a report by BBC that 10% of girls cannot afford menstrual products in the U.K. On a winter day in 2017, the campaign gathered 2,000 people to protest. People held up signs saying “bleeding is not a luxury,” “ditch tax on Tampax,” “we are not ovary-acting” along with many celebrities and period poverty activists giving impactful speeches. This included model Adwoa Aboah, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom Jess Phillips, comedian Deborah Frances-White, period poverty activist Chella Quint, and more.

The Pink Protest has accomplished to become a part of the change of two U.K. laws. Also, they acknowledge that engagement of young people and the utilization of online activism have helped them in this goal. The Pink Protest is a good example of how society can utilize social media to fight period poverty. With their weekly Instagram series ‘On Wednesdays We Wear Pink and Protest,’ The Pink Protest encourages young people across the globe to take one action each week. In this way, young people may become activists, themselves. The Pink Protest hopes that as it provides an exciting and easy way to involve people in activism (through regular campaigns and video series), they can “redefine what activism means to young people”. In this way, they can “create a way for activism to be not just accessible, but also fun.”

The Role of Social Media

According to The Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans use social media and 90% of the people aged 18–29 use at least one social media site. It is also surveyed that 90% of teenagers aged 13–17 have experienced social media and 51% visit social media sites, daily.

The U.N. also discussed the power of social media and how it can help to reduce period poverty. According to the U.N., social media has the power to raise public awareness and get people more involved. As mentioned previously, period poverty is about insufficient access to menstrual products and menstrual stigma. Therefore, openly sharing information about this via social media, which many teenagers and young adults use, can reduce menstrual stigma. Sharing information through posts and infographics alone are good ways to educate others and increase attention to period poverty. Social media engages young people to become period poverty activists. Consequently, this increases the chance that young people become more compassionate and active with menstruators. The millions of women struggling from period poverty around the world stand to benefit greatly.

Alison Choi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Maternal Health in PeruEfforts to improve maternal health in Peru have seen incredibly positive growth in recent years. At one point, the country was losing mothers to childbirth and childbearing causes at an incredibly high rate. Now, it is far more in line with its neighboring countries’ maternal health rates. However, some regions of Peru that are more rural remain causes for concern by both the Peruvian citizens and government when it comes to the health of mothers.

A Look at the Numbers

In 1990, statistics were released that showed the under-five mortality rate of children to be a staggering 80.3 per 1,000 live births in Peru. The maternal death rate was 200 deaths per 100,000 live births. These statistics were both among the highest in South America. The Peruvian government and the greater world quickly recognized a need to step in. They needed to create change in the quality of maternal healthcare in the country. Two primary programs helped lead the fight for improving conditions for women and maternal health in Peru between 1990 and today.

Mothers Matter

In 2006, CARE ran a crucial case study and program to benefit the health of mothers in Peru called Mothers Matter. The program sought to protect the lives of women through a combination of implementing family planning education. It also provided well-trained medical professionals in obstetrics and postpartum care and addressed big-picture concerns in Peru’s health policy.

As part of the Mothers Matter program created by CARE, the organization partnered with Columbia University. It did this to create The Foundations to Enhance Management of Maternal Emergencies (FEMME). Through FEMME, the organization reduced maternal deaths by 50% in a region of Peru called Ayacucho, one of the poorest in the country. FEMME was driven by eight central goals including standardizing obstetric care. The goals also included working with medical professionals to improve the use of referrals and creating new emergency guidelines for obstetric and newborn care. Throughout this program, the organization stressed a maintained focus guided by human rights.

PARSALUD

Additionally, in 2017, The World Bank reported helping to fund a program called PARSALUD. It aimed to support the Peruvian government and its goals to reform healthcare for women and children. The program successfully helped to improve family planning practices. It also improved healthcare services for women in need of pregnancy and postnatal care. The organization claims a 30% increase in hospital deliveries for women in rural areas. It also claims an increase of almost 50% of women attending a prenatal care visit before their second trimester.

Progress and Remaining Concerns

These organizations, the government and the resilience and dedication of citizens in Peru know they deserve better. As a result, the under-five mortality rate is now down to an all-time low for the country at 13.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, this is not the end of the story for maternal health in Peru.

The regions which are poorer, more rural and more populated by Indigenous people are still suffering more deaths. These deaths are due to improper health education and lack of access to safe facilities and competent care. They are also a result of language barriers between Indigenous and Spanish-speaking citizens. For example, according to recent reports, Puno, a primarily Indigenous area, maternal mortality is nearly 50% higher than the country’s average.

Overall, great strides have been made in the care for maternal health in Peru. Nonetheless, it will require continued efforts by everyone involved to bring proper health equity to the varying regions of the country and its mothers.

– Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Obstetric Fistula in Nepal
Many women in Nepal are shunned for obstetric fistula, even though they are completely preventable holes in the birth canal. One woman, Dhani Devi Mukhiya, recalls what the villagers in her community told her. They said it was “punishment for a sin” she committed in a previous life. Her relatives ignored her in public and her husband threatened to take a new wife. Unfortunately, this is the story for many women who suffer from obstetric fistula in Nepal, especially in rural areas. Both their communities and families shun them. However, one campaign is working to give them back the lives that have been taken away from them as a result.

What is an Obstetric Fistula?

An obstetric fistula is a small hole in the birth canal that leads to incontinence. The injury often results from childbirth complications, with high frequency in adolescent pregnancies. If left untreated, the hole can cause an infection, pain and depression resulting from severe shunning and social isolation. Obstetric fistula in Nepal is common because of high rates of child marriages, poverty and lack of access to care. The mountainous geography and rough travel conditions prevent many people from receiving the health services they need, as it is difficult to get to a hospital. more than 2 million marginalized women across the globe suffer from this complication. These women include child brides, those without access to money and those without access to maternal services.

Is it Preventable and Treatable?

Obstetric fistula has been practically eliminated in industrialized nations because of how easy they are to prevent and treat with access to maternal care. The main problem is that Nepalese women still lack sexual and reproductive health information and services. Due to this, 4,300 women live with obstetric fistula in Nepal, and there are 200-400 new cases each year. This statistic may not even be accurate; obstetric fistula in Nepal often goes unreported due to its high stigmatization.

The Good News About the Issue

This is the good news: the Campaign to End Fistula is actively working to give these women back their lives. Established in 2010, this program, supported by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), provides surgery and post-op care for women in rural Nepal. The surgeries take place at B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, the only public, high-tech hospital in the region. Now, it is an obstetric fistula training center.

To these women, the surgery on offer is not just a surgery. It is a life without pain, a life without stigma and a life without isolation; it was like “walking out of prison” for Ms. Rajdhobi. The program resulted in the performance of 487 surgeries since 2012, and the issue is gaining awareness. Because of the efforts of the Campaign to End Fistula, May 23 is now celebrated as the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula in Nepal. The Campaign together with UNFPA has helped the world to recognize obstetric fistula as a public health issue and has enabled numerous advocacy programs. It will take time to end the stigma surrounding obstetric fistula, but great strides have been made.

Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
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