In lower and middle-income countries, period poverty significantly hinders the improvement of women’s health and economic empowerment. Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual sanitary products, hygienic washing facilities and sexual and reproductive health education. Unfortunately, this problem particularly affects developing countries, where ongoing socioeconomic challenges and cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation worsen the situation.
Impacts of Period Poverty
The World Bank reports that more than 500 million people worldwide face the effects of period poverty. This issue can have severe consequences, as it exposes women to urogenital infections when they use inadequate substitutes like cloth pieces or plantain leaves. Additionally, females may suffer in terms of dignity, societal participation, school attendance, economic independence and mental health.
Period Poverty in the Gambia
In The Gambia, period poverty is widespread, especially in rural areas. The United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency (UNFPA) conducted a survey in The Gambia’s Lower River Region, which revealed that three out of 10 women manage their menstruation using old cloth strips instead of sanitary products. Consequently, due to the lack of menstrual products and safe hygiene facilities, some girls miss school during their period and lag behind academically compared to their male peers. However, four initiatives in The Gambia are working to eliminate period poverty in The Gambia and empower girls and women economically.
4 Projects Working to End Period Poverty in The Gambia
- UNFPA Women Empowerment and Peacebuilding Initiative – UNFPA implemented this initiative in 2021 and is operating in Basse, in The Gambia’s Upper River Region. It has set up a production facility and trained 15 local women to make reusable sanitary pads, which are provided free to students in schools and to the women working. This project also provides comprehensive health education to students to learn more about their physical health and bodily autonomy. In providing local women with skills and employment opportunities, this UNFPA project provides them with income and decision-making opportunities that will make a great difference in the rural area. This initiative hopes to provide an environmentally friendly solution to period poverty in The Gambia, as well as to strengthen communities and prevent girls and women from being discriminated against due to menstruation stigma.
- The Gambian American Foundation – Founded in 2019, The Gambian American Foundation is an NGO that aims to advance social and economic development in The Gambia. This is done through providing resources, leadership, donations and expertise on various socio-economic issues within the country. It “envisions a society in which people are empowered at the fullest to achieve all their human development and potentials, for their individual well-being and for the society’s greater good.” One of its projects is campaigning against ‘Menstruation Poverty and its Impact on Girls’ Education and Sexual Health. This project aims to provide 250 schoolgirls with regular access to sanitary products, both at home and at school. The students are also provided with self-esteem-building workshops and information sessions on reproductive health. As an outcome, this project hopes to reduce school absences to improve their academic future and to maintain good reproductive and sexual health.
- Project Gambia – Project Gambia is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2007, that works alongside partners both within The Gambia and the U.K. to set up a variety of initiatives in villages, farms and schools to alleviate poverty in a sustainable manner, through volunteer trips, child sponsorship, Christmas donations and project fundraising. In collaboration with The Gambia Teachers’ Union, this nonprofit organization launched the ‘Let’s See Red’ project in 2022. It provides menstrual health education and instructions on manufacturing sanitary products to 40 teachers, who can then educate students in Gambian communities and create long-term access to menstrual products. It is also dispensing packs of reusable sanitary pads to schools. Through this scheme, Project Gambia hopes that women will be able to continue to study and work on their periods, as well as remove cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation through education.
- Girls’ Pride – Established by Fatoumatta Kassama in 2017, Girls’ Pride focuses on eliminating period poverty, improving maternal and child health and maintaining girls’ school attendance during menstruation in The Gambia. It aims at improving maternal and child health, maintaining girls’ school attendance during their menstruation periods and creating job opportunities for local women. It manufactures and distributes reusable sanitary pads, offers counseling services and provides training to women and girls to make pads and educate their communities about period hygiene. Kassama grew up in The Gambia, where she faced challenges managing her periods due to cultural taboos and lack of access to products. Inspired to bring about change, she founded Girls’ Pride. The organization manufactures and distributes reusable sanitary pads to schoolgirls, provides counseling services and trains 35 women and girls, alongside 26 school teachers to make pads. These trainees then pass on their knowledge to others in their communities. The Comprehensive Health Education project, funded by the International Development Research Centre, coordinates this training. As a result, students can use the pads for themselves and donate extras to Pad Banks in schools. In addition to production, Girls’ Pride prioritizes education. The organization has educated 623 girls on period hygiene and 923 boys on period shaming and cultural taboos.
These programs and organizations are doing vital and inspiring work to address period poverty in The Gambia. Due to ongoing efforts, menstruating individuals in The Gambia can look forward to higher school attendance, greater dignity, improved physical and mental health, and better economic mobility.
– Eleanor Moseley