When thinking of the extremely poor, one’s mind may not immediately go to the inherent struggles that come with menstruation. This is not just cramping, bloating and irritability, but the associated sanitation issues that may arise without access to proper hygiene, not to mention the stigmatic buzz around womanhood and her period.

Real Relief, a small organization committed to supplying common life sustaining supplies, is devoted to making a difference and has developed a tool for menstruation hygiene for the extremely poor: SafePad, a period game changer in the sanitation industry. While sanitary napkins are nothing new to the women’s hygiene repertoire, SafePad exemplifies what certain basic life necessities encompass and how something so simple can impact the lives of millions of women and their younger counterparts.

The extremely poor cross many cultures as well as economic strains over a variety of different ages, races and religions. There are several different ways in which women have traditionally dealt with their menses. In some cases, these methods may be simply impractical. Rags may be used to deal with menses, but they often take time and privacy to wash and dry. Where menstruation cups may be available, some cultures may not accept this means or view it as reasonable.

Inadequate access to proper sanitation such as soap and clean water can also cause yeast infections, other serious illness or in extreme cases, infertility. When all else fails, women may choose to “free bleed,” which may not seem particularly harmful unless in the context of young girls attending schools in which they may take five or more days of leave, eventually leading to a poorer performance in their classes or even drop out.

Real Relief’s mission led to the production and distribution of SafePad through NGOs, religious communities and relief aid organizations of SafePad. SafePad has been specifically designed to combat bacteria by utilizing silica, nitrogen and carbon treatment agents, provide comfort, discretion and practical solutions to women where access to hygienic means of caring for the menses is difficult or impossible.

SafePad is also reusable and recyclable for women that do not experience reliable waste management in their communities and can withstand up to 100 washes, which translates to four years of use.

Menstruation is a part of most every woman’s life but if not taken care of properly, has the potential to have serious, life-long side effects. Menstrual health, education and supplies, however, can lead to so much more relief. Period.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

Women in IranOn May 19th this year, Iranians held presidential and local elections in their country. This particular election saw an increase in registered women candidates, along with the number of elected women officials, bringing hope and giving voice to women in Iran at both the national and local level.

In some parts of the country, there was a 34 percent decrease in the number of women elected compared to 2013; however, although the number decreased in 16 provincial capitals, 3 remained the same, while 11, including Tehran, saw increases in women being elected to councils. Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province—an underdeveloped and impoverished area in the southeast of Iran with the highest percentage of illiterate girls and women in the country—saw a total of 415 women elected to office. In a village called Afzalabad located in the province’s Khash district, all of the 10 elected candidates were women.

Some of the concerns that women in Iran campaigned on included women’s civic engagement, citizens’ rights, employment, education, health and social security and welfare.

Recently, Iran’s newly reelected president Hassan Rouhani has been under pressure to appoint female ministers to his cabinet. During his last term, his all-male list of ministers disappointed his followers, even though he appointed a number of women to vice-president positions. Despite this, Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s vice-president for women and family affairs, has won support among women’s rights advocates in Iran.

Ghonchech Ghavami, a leading women’s rights activist based out of Tehran, has said that “this structure has eliminated women on the excuse of meritocracy and experience but it looks like that main criteria for them is being male. That’s why appointing female ministers is symbolically important and would send a powerful signal in a country where politics still originates from men.”

One may find it surprising, though, that Iran as a whole has near-universal female literacy: women make up the majority (60 percent) of university students, as well as the majority of graduates earning degrees in science (68 percent). Furthermore, women in Iran are consistently outperforming their male counterparts.

Workplace biases in general are very much alive for women in Iran, and these biases often compel employers to hire male workers that are of identical or even lesser qualifications than their female counterparts. Although women in Iran have been as whole increasing their political participation within their government, they clearly still have a long way to go before achieving true gender equality.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr/span>

Organizations Helping Women in Developing CountriesMen, women and children in developing countries face many common struggles. But women living in poverty must also contend with their own set of unique challenges, such as sexual violence and educational discrimination. Ahead are five organizations helping women in developing countries.


  1. The Malala Fund
    Founded by the international human rights icon Malala Yousafzai, the Malala Fund is one of the most famous organizations helping girls and women get an education in developing countries. The Malala Fund works directly with girls in local communities to advocate for their education. Donations to the fund are used to invest in schools and supplies, as well as place activists and educators in the girls’ communities. The organization primarily helps girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and countries housing Syrian refugees such as Lebanon and Jordan.
    Taboos and traditions surrounding menstruation pose a significant health threat to women and girls in many developing countries. Just last month, a Nepali teenager died while observing her culture’s tradition of separating menstruating women from their families in “menstrual huts.” PERIOD is a nonprofit working to break the taboo around periods through advocacy and education. It also distributes period products to women in need.
  3. The Orchid Project
    Female genital cutting is a devastating practice that many women undergo in developing regions such as West Africa. The Orchid Project is one of many organizations working to end this human rights violation. This organization raises awareness of this damaging tradition and advocates for more resources for its victims. They also partner with grassroots organizations to educate local communities about the misconceptions and dangers surrounding FGC in order to end this dangerous practice.
  4. Prajwala
    Prajwala, which means “eternal flame,” is an Indian organization founded by social activist Dr. Sunitha Krishnan. The nonprofit rescues victims of sex trafficking. Prajwala works to keep these women out of prostitution by providing them with education, mental health care and job training.
  5. Women for Women
    Conflict disproportionately occurs in developing regions, and women are often the overlooked victims of this violence. Women for Women is a nonprofit that provides women in conflict zones with an empowerment program. The program equips women with business skills, job skills and networking opportunities. Women for Women also provides women in conflict zones with resources such as microfinancing and access to local healthcare sources.

Women in developing countries have their own special needs beyond challenges such as hunger and health problems. These are just a few of the many organizations helping women in the developing world.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr

Improving Women's EducationIn January 2014, former U.S. President Barack Obama stated, “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.” Indeed, educating women throughout the world has proven a pivotal locus for ensuring communities’ and countries’ social and economic success. In order to highlight some of the tremendous growth that women and girls’ education generates, here are 10 facts about improving women’s education.

  1. Emphasizing the need for ensuring the continual empowerment of women worldwide, the United Nations made equal access to education for girls a central focus of its Millennium Development Goals. The U.N. has made the elimination of gender disparities in primary and secondary education its third goal. Furthermore, it sought to reconcile the injustice that limited women’s opportunities for both education and, by extension, employment. Since the completion of the Millennium Development Goals, women have constituted 41 percent of paid workers in fields outside of agriculture. This is a tremendous increase from the 1990 rate of 35 percent.
  2. Educated women are likely to marry at later ages and consequently have fewer children. In fact, by simply providing girls with an extra year of schooling, nations can reduce a woman’s fertility rate by 5 to 10 percent. Limiting the number of individuals present will ensure improved accessibility to resources and better opportunities for all people, particularly in countries struggling with overpopulation, such as Nigeria and China.
  3. Girls who stay in school longer lower their probability of contracting HIV, thereby adding securing their health and wellbeing. In fact, the Girls Global Education Fund has reported that in Africa, children born to mothers who have not received education have a one in five chance of dying before age 5.
  4. Improving women’s education promotes continued education for whole families. In sending women to school, they are likely to encourage their children’s educations. This chain reaction illustrates the ways in which educating a girl improves an entire nation’s access to education.
  5. For each additional year that a girl spends in primary school, her wages increase by up to 20 percent. By continuing with her education through secondary school, her wages increase by 25 percent. Improving education for girls therefore ensures their socioeconomic stability and successes worldwide.
  6. By providing women and girls access to education, the probability of their involvement in the political process increases. Through education, women are more likely to participate in civic engagement and decision-making. Consequently, this promotes a more representative government. In fact, the average proportion of women in parliaments across the world has doubled over the past 20 years. This is a direct result of the success of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals in reducing the gender disparity in primary and secondary school education.
  7. In recent years, young women accounted for 59 percent of the total illiterate population. By providing women and girls with an education, illiteracy rates worldwide will inevitably increase, suggesting the overarching trend of global educational success.
  8. Educational depravation for women and girls has proven costly for the global economy. By refusing to give women and girls education, individual economies suffer as much as a $1 billion loss in revenue. Throughout the world, this constitutes a $92 billion loss each year. This suggests that investing in women’s education is a lucrative decision for all nations to make.
  9. Girls’ education has a tremendous impact on the environment. According to the Brookings Institution, secondary educational opportunities for women remain the most cost-effective investment against climate change.
  10. When girls are educated, communities maintain their stability at higher rates and can recover faster from conflict. By providing women and girls with secondary educational opportunities, nations also reduce their risk of war substantially and secure limitations on terrorism and extremism.

Ultimately, girls’ education holds significant implications for the global community. By improving women’s education, the world thrives both socially and economically. It is critical for nations to invest in women’s education in order to guarantee both individual and global success.

Emily Chazen

Photo: Flickr

Female Victims of Sex Trafficking in India Get a Second ChanceMillions of women and children in India are victims of sex trafficking. The National Crimes Records Bureau states that a girl falls victim to sex trafficking every eight minutes in India. Many are told that they will be assisted in finding a job or even a potential marriage to alleviate them of their poverty, making them trusting of traffickers and easier targets for prostitution.

In 2014, police in India recorded 2,604 sex trafficking cases, but more than three-quarters of the traffickers accused went unpunished. The Better India states that “less than 50 child prostitution cases in a year lead to successful convictions on average.” Current laws are not effective enough in preventing human trafficking in India.

The Dutch anti-trafficking group Free a Girl created a new approach to the sex trafficking issue in India, called The School for Justice. It launched in April of this year with 19 women who were victims of sex trafficking in India. Not only are these women training to be lawyers but they are also gaining empowerment in a community in which they are ostracized.

The program financially and emotionally supports the process. It enrolls them into a university so that they can receive a bachelor’s degree in law. The rescued girls live in a house together while receiving food and an education to prepare them for a future career. For each student in The School for Justice program, it costs $3,400 per year which is covered by donors for the first two years.

Having women who were once trafficked as prostitutes become members of India’s legal system is a huge step for the country. Not only are females that are trafficked not welcome back with their families, they are also more likely to be arrested. These women are not receiving the help that they need once they escape sex trafficking in India.

The main goal of The School for Justice is to provide the help and resources needed to create prosecutors out of the victims of trafficking in India. This could be a small change that eventually leads to holding traffickers accountable for their actions and keeping women and children out of trafficking. Per The Better India, “not only will these brave women finally be able to chart a course of their own life but they will also be saving the lives of others like themselves in the process.”

Mackenzie Fielder
Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurship
In emerging markets, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their local economies. The money they earn pays for their children’s education and their family’s food and medical needs. When women are working, not only is their family lifted up but their community and their country also feel the economic impact. That is why supporting female entrepreneurship helps alleviate poverty.

Female entrepreneurs employ one or more people, and in a survey of 112 million entrepreneurs by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), 12 million entrepreneurs expect to employ up to six people over the next five years. This translates to 72 million jobs. In 2012, 126 million women were starting or running new businesses in 67 economies globally. In sub-Saharan Africa, female entrepreneurship engaged 27% of women. In Zambia, 40% of women are entrepreneurs.

The World Bank announced The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative in July 2017. It is a program that will support loans, mentoring programs and gender equality advocacy for women in emerging countries. Individuals, companies and foreign governments supply the funding for the program. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Germany among other countries pledged an initial $325 million. The goal is to raise $1 billion.

The World Bank has a long history of supporting the success of female entrepreneur programs. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank, partnered with Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Program in 2014 and set up a $600 million fund that provided training and access to capital to women starting small and medium-sized companies.

The World Bank also partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011 to create the Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) trust fund. WLSME supports fostering new enterprises and the growth of businesses in developing countries. The grants offered by WLSME test and rigorously evaluate the programs to understand what works best in the 12 countries involved.

There are approximately 9.34 million small and medium-sized businesses globally. The programs developed by the World Bank and other institutions will help women receive money to start and grow their businesses. It will also provide financial education and the mentoring necessary for female entrepreneurs to be successful.

Women entrepreneurs are instrumental in powering economic growth in developing nations. And as the emerging nations grow, world poverty will become closer to eradication.

Jene Cates

Photo: Google

Education in Afghanistan When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, women faced substantial discrimination. Many of their rights were stifled, including their ability to receive an education. The Taliban lost power in 2001, and the Afghan government and USAID have since worked together to reinstate women’s rights. Their primary focus has been improving female education in Afghanistan, as education is a major key to lifting people out of poverty.

In the past 16 years, girls have gone from comprising zero percent of students to almost 40 percent. While these statistics are encouraging, the female gender still faces significant barriers to education in Afghanistan.

Many families still believe that women should not work or go to school because it is improper for their gender. Without their family’s support, it can be nearly impossible to receive an education in Afghanistan. For some girls, schools are so far away from their homes that they have to walk a great distance to get there. According to the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, 90 percent of women throughout Afghanistan have been sexually harassed on the streets. This harassment can create so much fear that they drop out of school to be safe.

Child marriage also poses a significant threat to female education in Afghanistan. Almost one-third of girls are married before they turn 18. Child marriage is an unfortunate result of tradition and a lack of career opportunities for women. Additionally, once a woman gets married, it is incredibly unlikely that her husband will allow her to continue her education.

Afghanistan can be a difficult place for a woman to receive an education due to it being a highly dangerous country for women. Thankfully, the Afghan government, with help from other nations, continues to work to improve conditions for women. The Education Quality Improvement Program, or EQUIP, provides schools with grants to for textbooks, equipment, schoolhouse improvement and increasing the teachers’ education levels. Currently, EQUIP focuses on improving the quality of education in Afghanistan for females, and most of the funding goes to schools that educate women.

Women who receive a proper education are less likely to become child brides and more liable contribute to their communities in a substantial way. Female education is thus essential to ending the cycle of poverty for individuals and communities. In Afghanistan, educational opportunities are increasing, and poverty levels are sure to decrease as more women receive an education.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Flickr

Women in developing countries are one of the most vulnerable and oppressed groups in the world. But even in the face of challenges such as disproportionate violence, child marriages, teenage pregnancy and minimal education, many women are fighting back. The Borgen Project highlights five powerful women in poor countries who are asserting their power against fierce adversity.

  1. Malala Yousafzai
    This international icon has been an inspiration to girls everywhere since she survived a Taliban attack in 2012. The Pakistani teenager was targeted by the extremist group for her advocacy in support of girls’ education rights. Since her miraculous recovery, Yousafzai has continued her fight against gender inequality by founding the Malala Fund. This organization advocates for and invests in girls’ education in the poorest and most unequal countries in the world. At age 17, she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Her story of resistance has made her one of the most powerful women in poor countries.
  2. Eqbal Dauqan
    This Yemeni scientist is breaking cultural barriers and scientific boundaries despite hardship and discrimination. Like Malala, she has been physically attacked for defiance of her culture’s strict gender roles. She was forced to flee to Malaysia from the civil war in her native Yemen. In the face of these extreme obstacles, Dauqan has managed to become an awarded chemist. In a country where many women need a man’s permission to leave the house, Dauqan earned a college degree and a Ph.D. in biochemistry. She has gone on to publish a popular book, earn international awards for her scientific contributions and be named assistant professor and head of her department at Al Saeed University. It is no wonder that NPR calls her “unstoppable.”
  3. Majd Al-Asharawy
    This Palestinian inventor created Green Cake, a revolutionary new building block made from ashes. In her war-torn home of Gaza, resources are limited and many buildings are in ruins. Al-Asharawy researched for six months to develop her special brick out of the resources available in Gaza. Green Cake is environmentally friendly and fire-resistant, weighs half what a concrete block does and costs half the price. This inspiring young inventor is yet another woman utilizing her limited resources to revolutionize the world around her.
  4. Ishita Sharma
    India is one of the most rapidly improving countries in the developing world, but gender equality in the country is not up to pace. Ninety-two women are raped in India every day. After being harassed by men on the street, Sharma teamed up with a kung fu coach to offer free self-defense classes to underprivileged girls. By working with parents and teachers in the girls’ communities, she has built up a small army of girls with the skills and confidence to defend themselves. Sharma is helping to equip more powerful women in poor countries to stand up to violence and sexual harassment.
  5. Drukpa Order “Kung Fu” Nuns
    In Southeast Asia, the human trafficking of young girls is rampant. Five hundred Buddhist nuns from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet are fighting this practice through a 4,000-kilometer bike trip. For the fourth time, the nuns biked from Kathmandu to Leh, India to raise awareness of human trafficking and promote messages of gender equality. Along the way, they met with local officials, provided food to poor communities and helped marginalized people access medical care. They are even trained in martial arts to defend themselves against male harassment. These powerful women in poor countries are blazing a new trail for girls in Southeast Asia.

There is still a lot of work to be done by the international community and local governments to support gender equality in the developing world. But these powerful women in poor countries are proving that they are far from powerless.

Bret Anne Serbin

Photo: Flickr

Female leaders play a critical role in helping to end global poverty. Emphasizing the need for equity, education and improved health care services, these women have used their minds and resources as means for bettering the conditions of the world. Here is a list of 10 women who have helped fight global poverty.

Michelle Obama
Recognizing the necessity of educating girls and women around the world, Michelle Obama has continually advocated on behalf of the world’s poor. Citing education as a leading contributor to fighting global poverty, Michelle Obama has suggested that, by giving girls and women access to schooling, global poverty can be ended. In 2016, she launched a Twitter campaign entitled #62milliongirls, seeking to raise awareness regarding the number of women who remain uneducated. That year, with funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, she announced plans to provide $100 million for education efforts. Her efforts to emphasize education have managed to hinder the perpetuity of poverty throughout the world.

Angela Merkel
The current chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel provided Global Citizens with a straightforward message prior to the G20 Summit. She stated that the G20 group of major economies has “a shared responsibility to enable people worldwide to live in dignity.” Suggesting that the interconnectivity of the world established through the Internet and economy links people now more than ever, she emphasized sustainability and development. Merkel has established an ongoing desire to reduce poverty and conflict by teaming up with African nations to create stability. When she was declared Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2015, one of the main reasons cited was her tremendous generosity with refugees, having provided one million with refuge.

J. K. Rowling
Another of the most influential women who have helped fight global poverty is J. K. Rowling. She is a tremendous advocate on behalf of the world’s orphans, demanding that they receive more help than they were once provided. The author of the Harry Potter series established the Lumos Foundation, which works to help millions of children worldwide to regain their right to a family in the face of poverty, disability and minority status.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey does tremendous work for girls globally. Like Michelle Obama, Oprah values the role of education in improving women’s quality of life. As a result, she has funded a number of organizations that seek to grant women additional rights worldwide, including Women for Women International and Girl Effect. Women for Women International has assisted over 462,000 marginalized women in unstable, war-torn nations. Girl Effect prides itself on creating a new normal, where girls previously living in poverty are empowered through technology and safe spaces.

Melinda Gates
One of the two leaders of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates has made incredible strides toward ending global poverty. Emphasizing the need for quality healthcare and education in order to end poverty, Gates has used her organization to help provide children in poverty with exactly that. In particular, for many communities around the world, the Gates Foundation has provided financial tools to the poor, taught farmers how to increase production sustainability, helped women with family-planning, increased college completion rates and combatted infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV and polio.

Angelina Jolie
The recipient of the 2005 Global Humanitarian Action Award for her work with the U.N. Refugee Agency and refugees themselves, Angelina Jolie epitomizes global advocacy. Supporting 29 charities, including the Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan, the Clinton Global Initiative, Doctors Without Borders and the U.N. Millennium Project, Jolie has done unbelievable work in terms of ending global poverty. In 2016, Jolie worked to bring light to the ongoing need to help Syrian refugees.

Cindy Levin
Cindy Levin is another one of the most influential women who have helped fight global poverty. Seeking to engage children and stay-at-home parents in global child survival, she works to teach grassroots volunteers to fundraise through an organization known as RESULTS. In October of 2012, Levin traveled to Uganda with the U.N. Foundation’s [email protected] Campaign, personally meeting mothers living in poverty. On that journey, she accompanied UNICEF to health programs days, which provided vaccines and AIDS testing to people living in the area.

Ellen Gustafson
Sustainable food system activist, author, innovator and social entrepreneur Ellen Gustafson has given TED talks about the necessity of using food as a means for ending global poverty. The creator of the ChangeDinner campaign, she seeks to change the food systems at dinner tables and in schools around the world. She is now a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ertharin Cousin
The former executive director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin has been fighting global hunger since 2012. Using innovative tactics, Cousin implemented a program called “forecast-based financing.” The program utilized weather models to identify droughts prior to their occurrence in order to emphasize proactivity. Ultimately, the goal of this program was to enable countries to grow enough food before disaster hit, saving both money and lives.

Jacqueline Novogratz
Jacqueline Novogratz is the founder and chief executive officer of an organization called Acumen. Acumen prioritizes the voices of the world’s poor, using them as a compass for eliminating poverty. By creating the organization, Novogratz helped make significant strides in emphasizing what the poor truly need.

Clearly, women who have helped fight global poverty play a large role in beginning to combat the issue. While male, female and gender non-binary leaders continue to contribute significantly, it is still incumbent upon governments to provide funds to help address the problem. Only by ensuring that each of these entities works in tandem can the world truly ensure that poverty comes to an end.

Emily Chazen

Photo: Flickr

Sierra Leonean Women

Sierra Leone’s education disparity is affecting the quality and accessibility of reproductive healthcare. Low education parallels with the inaccessibility of contraception, consultations and health facilities. Contraception usage, like injectables and the pill, is six times higher among wealthy Sierra Leonean women. Early childbearing before the age of 18 among poor women is 58 percent, as opposed to 29 percent for their wealthy counterparts. The total fertility rate among poor Sierra Leonean women is about twice that of wealthy women with a higher education.

Sierra Leone’s underdeveloped reproductive healthcare access also puts its adolescent women at risk. Young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are at a greater risk of infant and child mortality, as well as high risks of morbidity and mortality for the young mother.

Additionally, 28 percent of poor Sierra Leonean women give birth unaccompanied by health personnel, as opposed to the 78 percent of their rich counterparts accompanied by health personnel during childbirth. The reason for this, the World Bank logged, is that 89 percent of women experience at least one problem accessing healthcare, 80 percent lack sufficient funds for treatment and 53 percent live too far from health facilities to travel to.

Mary Turey, a maternal health promoter in Kamalo village in Sierra Leone’s Northern Bombali District, has acknowledged the proximity issue. She and other villagers offer a room in their homes for women traveling long distances to health facilities to stay safely overnight. Turey provides women with essential information about pregnancy and refers them to nearby health centers. In 2014, she and her fellow villagers referred 3,862 pregnant Sierra Leonean women to health facilities, where they were able to give birth safely.

In terms of policy and legislation, USAID created the Child Survival and Health Grants Program – dubbed ‘Al Pikin fo Liv’ or ‘Every Child Must Live’ – in order to carry out the goal of ending preventable neonatal and maternal deaths. Its partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, academia and ministries of health have trained 1,300 health workers and peer supervisors, developing and enhancing the quality of care at health units for procedures across the board. The Child Survival and Health Grants Program has improved the health of more than 36,000 children and 37,000 women in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Tiffany Teresa Santos

Photo: Flickr