A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle. This can equate to as much as 20% of the school year. Many girls drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating. Should young women have to give up their education due to a lack of facilities, sanitary products and information?
Menstrual Health Management can further social and economic empowerment and growth. It can also contribute to achieving a number of the sustainable development goals including quality education, gender equality and clean water and sanitation.
S.A.L.V.E. International has been working hard to make sure girls have access to products like re-useable sanitary pads. Other key issues that are being addressed are access to toilets, hand washing and hygienic waste management.
How has this information been delivered to the young girls on the streets that we work with? Firstly, we organized a workshop on how to make reusable sanitary pads. The aim was to empower these young girls with the skill of making the pads and also demystify the myths and misconceptions associated with periods. Many girls drop out of school due to the lack of adequate sanitary products, period stigma and discrimination and the barbaric norms and taboos that make girls look dirty and unworthy. Sara is one of the girls who attended the training and allowed me to share her story.
Sara is 15. She attends our Girl’s Drop in Centre and also joined the pad making workshop. She says it was a beautiful blessing, learning how to make her own sanitary pads.
“It’s a skill I really needed. I can now make my own pads to save me the trouble of looking for small pieces of cloth”
Obtaining sanitary pads during her periods was the biggest nightmare. The money she collected from selling plastic bottles was for food, so diverting the money to buy pads would mean having an empty stomach. This was always a hard decision for her to make. With the skill of making pads and materials given to her, she says this is no longer a challenge.
She shared that her self esteem has been boosted, she feels positive and proud of her body and no longer feels ashamed about her periods. She now feels more empowered and aware of her own body cycles.
“The fact that I know how to count and know when my next cycle is, I am not worried that I will stain my uniform at school or clothes at home”
Next, Sara would like to venture into making extra pads to sell to her friends and neighbours. She says this money will enable her to buy more materials to make more pads and earn some extra money for her and her family. She is very thankful to S.A.L.V.E. for the great opportunity and is also willing to teach the skill to other girls so that they don’t go through the shame and difficulties she went through.
Let’s work together to keep more girls in school. An empowered girl is an empowered nation.