Period poverty is real and impacting folks in your city today.
Here's how you can help.
Period poverty is real and impacting folks in your city today.
Here's how you can help.
Over the last week, your social feed might’ve been a little bit more period positive than you’re used to. That’s because May 28 was Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the challenges people face because of their periods and how we might address those challenges.
Now hold up. Some of you might be thinking, “OK, OK, so cramps are evil and sometimes my period seriously takes me out for an entire day, but what’s this whole ‘menstrual hygiene’ thing? Are you implying my period makes me dirty? Rude.”
Not at all. Your period is a natural bodily function. But across the globe – and even in your own neighborhood – there are people experiencing homelessness and poverty who:
So what are they using for period products? Sadly, anything they can find, including rags, newspapers, bunched up toilet paper and any other materials they can find to create makeshift pads and tampons. This is incredibly unhygienic, and it’s causing people to get infections, miss school, miss work, ruin what few clothes they might have, and much more.
We shouldn’t let this happen if we’re able to help. When periods are a fact of life for people with uteruses, people shouldn’t be forced to create unclean, makeshift period products.
And that’s the whole point of Menstrual Hygiene Day. Even though periods are a natural bodily function, they’re still (oddly) a taboo subject, so we still need a big awareness campaign to educate people about the problem.
Menstrual Hygiene Affects Us All
So Menstrual Hygiene Day is a big step for period positivity, but the campaign’s got a long way to go as far as inclusivity goes. The Menstrual Hygiene Day campaign materials are designed with the gender binary in mind. They’re very pink, feature only graphics of girls, and use gendered language. Basically, they think only girls get periods.
Not only are women not the only people who get periods, but they’re also not the only people who experience poverty and homelessness. In both Canada and the United States, transgender communities face a higher level of poverty and homelessness than cisgender communities. And many trans people report facing discrimination at shelters because they are transgender.
Imagine the challenges the trans communities face when it comes to menstrual hygiene. I mean, how are you supposed to get period products when people don’t even believe you get a period?
Let’s say it together: menstrual hygiene affects us all.
Menstrual Hygiene is a Year-Round Issue
Menstrual Hygiene Day may only be one day a year, but that doesn’t mean our efforts to help those in need should only happen on May 28.
Globally, Menstrual Hygiene Day events will continue through June, with:
More locally – and on the opposite coast from where Lunapads is located – The Period Purse, a grassroots organization that provides purses filled with pads, tampons and wellness items directly to the homeless, abused and impoverished across Canada, is hosting several events in the Toronto area to support menstrual hygiene awareness:
And, remember, Lunapads created the program One4Her in partnership with AFRIpads. A portion of Lunapads’ gross annual sales plus customer donations goes toward projects that support menstrual and reproductive health in Uganda. That means you’re making a difference just by shopping Lunapads. How cool is that?
Cover image courtesy of The Homeless Period.
Mika Doyle is a writer and poet whose work has appeared in Bitch Media, Role/Reboot, and Everyday Feminism (under a pseudonym). Follow her on Twitter at @mikadoyle and visit her website at mikadoyle.com.
Girls know that education is their only path to self-sufficiency. It is their only chance to shape their own fate rather than having the limits of their lives dictated to them by others.—Let Girls Learn founder Michelle Obama
Guest blogger Saki Onda is a Masters of Public Health student in the global health department at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The ability to manage our menses safely, comfortably, and with dignity is a luxury that most women and girls in industrialized countries take for granted.
My personal experience with menstruation has always been a positive one – around the age of eight my mother sat me down to explain periods and cooked sekihan or ‘red rice’ when I did reach menarche. In my home country of Japan, this steamed sticky rice and azuki bean dish is prepared on special occasions that call for celebration – one of which is when a girl reaches menarche, although this custom is less frequently practiced nowadays.
Being of Japanese origin but having grown up in international communities in the U.S., France, and the U.K., I have become aware of varying attitudes, practices, and taboos towards menstruation. As a physician and current Master of Public Health student with a focus on reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has become an area of growing interest.
I came across Lunapads when researching organizations and social entrepreneurs working in the area, and Madeleine was kind enough to agree to a video chat about the issues surrounding MHM and Pads4Girls and One4Her, their partnerships with organizations in low-income countries.
Historically, scant attention has been paid to MHM, perhaps because its impact on development and public health are not immediately obvious, and there is no direct morbidity and mortality in the way that maternal and reproductive health has. That said, a new study from India claims that in that country, 70% of all reproductive diseases in that country are related to poor menstrual hygiene.
In addition, people are surprisingly uneasy when it comes to topics surrounding menstruation. I remember approaching a female editor of a ‘green’ newsletter series at my graduate school to suggest doing a piece on menstrual cups and reusable sanitary pads, but was effectively told that readers would be uncomfortable reading about menstrual blood.
However, there is growing literature and public health discourse on MHM, although significant gaps still exist. In 2012, WaterAid published their first edition of a 354-page report titled ‘Menstrual hygiene matters: A resource for improving menstrual hygiene around the world’, and November 2013 saw UNICEF’s second annual virtual conference on MHM in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools. Madeleine also pointed to the active community of MHM professionals and advocates, including the myriad of partners involved in the upcoming ‘Menstrual Hygiene Day’ on May 28th.
The significance of MHM is that it has implications for a wide array of issues including education, sanitation, poverty, and female empowerment, to name a few. It also potentially allows segueing into more sensitive topics like sexual health and gender-based violence. Achieving good MHM is complex – available, accessible, appropriate, and cost-effective menstrual hygiene products are needed, along with adequate sanitation and disposal facilities, as well as awareness and education.
Additionally, men and boys have long been excluded from women’s health dialogue. Madeleine shared a fantastic story about schoolboys’ compassion for their female peers once they realized the reason that these classmates were missing school for a week every month.
There has been exciting progress in addressing MHM globally in recent years, and I look forward to following the continuing efforts from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), policy-makers, academics, and social entrepreneurs in this field and to get involved myself in my future career in medicine and public health.
What if you could take something that was going to be either burnt, landfilled or made into plastic pellets, and make it into something highly useful that could have a major social impact for very little money? Cool, right? We call it Transformation Textiles (TT), it rocks, and this is how it works.
Major sporting goods companies and mass market retailers make bathrobes, tank tops, track pants etc by the millions in factories located primarily in developing nations. You knew that. What you may not know is what that actually looks like. Consumers typically focus on things like worker safety, fair wages and factory conditions in these transactions: fair enough - they are super-important issues. What you may not have thought about, though, is the waste that it generates. Imagine rolling out dough and cutting cookies from it - the pattern pieces for making clothes are the same as the cookie cutters, and the fact that they're not square means that there will be leftover dough - or fabric in this case. Normally this waste, called "offcuts", is thrown away.
While most offcuts aren't big enough to make anything large, there is ample opportunity to place patterns for small things (say for example menstrual pads, or parts of a pair of underwear), or things that could be pieced together, in the master marker - all it takes is willingness on behalf of the manufacturer. Rachel Starkey is a longtime friend, colleague and Pads4Girls supporter who is pioneering this thought-leading movement.
In her own words: "Transformation Textiles (TT) is a Social Business Strategy where everyone profits. By the simple pre-planning of utilizing the off-cuts spaces in master mass-garment pattern plans, "pro-poor products" are made in a very cost-effective and efficient manner. Pro-Poor Products are by nature items needed, desired & affordable to the world's poor.
Washable Menstrual Kits are a prime example & one of the easiest TT products to fit into any mass-garment pattern. We have found that whenever pro-poor products run in our production lines, our staff are happier. They are not just making another garment; they know that TT products are going to people that need them most. For our staff that means not just another paycheck - they are a part of something much bigger. It is about creating opportunity & hope in the lives of others. Happy employees are usually more productive employees. We have seen an explosion of innovation amongst our production team with many thinking, "How can I use this or that in a useful way?".
With extremely low actual costs for manufacturing pro-poor products, the poor are able to afford them and even resell them to others! TT places a whole new dimension to the "re-cycle/carbon footprint" question: a different question might be what is your "life-giving print"? TT not only saves the environment, it creates an environment for some to have a chance to live. It beckons us with the strong message, "Keep girls in school! Create jobs for vulnerable women!" Pro-poor products are better served not as hand-outs, but foot-holds to help people climb out of the circumstances keeping them enslaved in poverty."
In May 2011 Pads4Girls was contacted by Helen McGuirk, a Peace Corps volunteer working in Nyanza Province, Kenya. Helen was collecting funds to start a Cloth Pad Program to teach students how to sew their own reusable menstrual pads. Pads4Girls donated the remaining funds needed for Helen to get her project off the ground. Here's the latest update on her progress and the amazing ripple-effect the program is having.
Hello readers! It's time for an update from Western Kenya, where girls are learning how to make their own menstrual pads (thanks to Lunapads) with locally available materials. The school term was short this year, so we were working extra hard to prepare and meet the students. From September through November, two secondary schools and four primary schools were visited, and a total of 368 girls were taught how to make their own washable cloth pads.
These past few months were especially amazing for me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There was so much support for our program - so much more than I was expecting. Most teachers I met were very eager to learn how to sew the pads too, and usually by my second visit to the schools, the teachers were the ones arranging and making sure the students were doing everything correctly.
At the girls leadership camp we conducted this summer, we chose two girls from my area to learn tactics for good decision making and the confidence to grow as a strong woman in this world. During the past term these same girls volunteered to come with me (after school) and teach others at different schools how to make the pads. I was so proud.
With all the work we've done and all the knowledge we've created we're not even close to being done. We have about ten more schools to visit next term (starting in January) so wish us all luck!
Thanks, and happy holidays!
Public Health Volunteer, US Peace Corps
Mikai, Kenya 2010-2012
It's great to be back at Lunapads after an entire school year has passed. Last summer I had the opportunity to work on the Lunapads Pads4Girls video. It was a great experience. Not only to create the video, but also to learn about Pads4Girls.
If you haven't heard yet, Pads4Girls is the name of Lunapads' philanthropic project which sends reusable menstrual pads to girls in developing nations. The project has an enormous impact on the lives of girls living in developing nations.
Having adequate menstrual supplies ensures that these girls don't miss school when they get their periods. Without these supplies, girls miss up to as much as 20% of their education because of their periods. Pads4Girls is currently being featured on Mothering.com this month.
Interning for Lunapads this year, one of my fun tasks is to keep the Lunapads Youtube Channel updated and lively! While browsing Youtube today, I came across this truly uplifting video about the Pardada Pardadi school for girls, located just outside of Delhi, India. Surprisingly, the story has a common theme with our Pads4Girls effort- Cloth Pads.
In rural India, where the Pardada Pardadi school is located, the idea of a financially independent woman is still not the social norm. Luckily, the Pardada Pardadi school is making efforts to change this. The school's goal is to train girls to become leaders in their communities.
To reach this goal, the 1000 students at the school are offered free education, free books, free uniforms, free bicycles as well as the opportunity to make their own money.
After their courses, the girls make bedspreads, cushions and cloth pads for their communities. Each girl is given 10 rupees a day for her attendance. By the time a girl graduates, she makes 34-40 thousand rupees (1000 dollars) to put towards further education and to help lift her family out of the poverty cycle.
Of all the sewn products that the girls produce, the most in demand products are cloth pads. The reason for this is simple, woman's sanitary pads are expensive and difficult to come by in rural India. This fact is common in most developing nations. According to Pardada Pardadi's website Rags-to-Pads, "most rural Indian women and girls catch numerous vaginal infections after attaining puberty. The reason is because they use dirty or unsanitized cloth during menstruation -- because they cannot afford hygienically-prepared sanitary pads". For this reason, producing reusable cloth pads is a major service to the community.
Where the girls live, "Forty thousands families...live below the poverty line". According to Pardada Pardadi, employment is scarce. The overarching attitude in society is also patriarchal, where the sexes are not equal.This reality means women's health is low priority and escaping poverty is a seemingly impossible task for women.
Despite all this, Pardada Pardadi is truly making a difference, his students are on their way to becoming financially independent through education and a sustainable source of income. The girls are also being educated about their health and their menstrual cycles. The good extends beyond Pardada Pardadi's school, the pads made by his students keep the girls in school during their periods, and minimize the incidences of vaginal infection for other women in their community.
Clearly, Pardada Pardadi's contributions are making profound changes in the lives of his students. For me, it is continually inspirational to learn about people like Pardada Pardadi. Discovering videos like this while on the job, is definitely a perk. I hope bringing attention to this amazing video, will bring more awareness to the needs of girls in developing areas.