Every month, a significant part of the world’s population has to contend with a biological cycle that is entirely natural and yet, more often than not, extremely taboo. In the western world, getting your period isn’t exactly considered polite dinner table conversation, but we’ve managed to reach the point where it doesn’t interfere too much with our daily lives: disposable feminine hygiene products are, for most individuals, easily obtainable and very effective, and women aren’t shunned during menstruation. Western girls and women wear a pad or use a tampon, maybe take an ibuprofen for the cramps, and then we’re able to go about our lives. School, work, social events–in many cases, we don’t have to miss even a day.
Prohibitive to Daily Life
In many cultures across the globe, however, this is far from the case. Menstruation isn’t always fully understood, much less accepted, and in many developing countries access to sanitary napkins is limited to nonexistent. Without these basic supplies, girls and women are faced with the problem of managing the monthly mess that so often proves prohibitive to their daily lives–especially when it comes to education.
Celeste Mergens, founder of Days for Girls International, discovered this firsthand while working with an orphanage in Kenya. Upon asking how girls in the orphanage managed their periods, she discovered that not only did they not have access to feminine hygiene products, but they often spent the days during their period sitting on sheets of cardboard (source). They weren’t just missing days of school; they didn’t even leave their rooms, not even for meals. And while this is unacceptable, it’s far from an unusual situation for girls around the world.
Days For Girls International
Days for Girls tackles this issue with a practical, sustainable, and grassroots approach: Provide girls with a kit, complete with washable and reusable menstrual pads, panties, a carrying pouch, and the supplies they need to empower them to step beyond the taboo of their biological womanhood and create a brighter future for themselves. The pads are designed to be nondescript, looking like brightly colored washcloths to hide staining and allow for washing and drying without embarrassment, and the kits are handmade by volunteers who sign up to give their time and talents to Days for Girls International’s endeavors. All you need are basic sewing skills, some free time, and a desire to help girls break free of the limits imposed on them by society. And by volunteering for Days for Girls, you’re joining an effort that has already impacted the lives of over a million girls in more than a hundred countries (source).
Another approach to the problem of menstrual taboos is featured in the award-winning Period. End of Sentence., a Netflix original short documentary. In India, where women often resort to using old rags every month, Arunachalam Muruganantham built a machine that makes it easy to manufacture biodegradable cotton pads. The documentary shows the way his invention is being used to uplift the community in Hapur District in India, where it was installed. Local women are not only able to earn an income by making and selling pads, but also to provide an affordable and effective supply of menstrual products to the other women in their area.
The Pad Project
It’s a small-scale and sustainable operation, one that has been met with success in Hapur and promises the same kind of results in other such communities. Though the machine and initial materials are supplied through fundraising organized by the Pad Project, the idea–and so far, the reality–is that these operations will be self-sustaining in the long run.
As Arunachalam Muruganantham observed, “The strongest creature created by God in the world. Not the lion, not the elephant, not the tiger. The girl.” Yet in patriarchal societies where women are already fighting an uphill battle against cultural norms, being forced to miss school–or being unable to enter a temple, or compelled to stay in a single room–for days every month can discourage them from reaching their full potential. Organizations such as Days for Girls International and the Pad Project aim to change that, using straightforward yet effective approaches to create change that is both impactful and long-lasting.
You can learn about Days for Girls by exploring their website. To support their mission, find out more about sewing kits with Days for Girls International here; or, if you’re not a fan of sewing machines, you can also make a monetary donation directly to the organization here. To learn more about the Pad Project, visit their website, or watch the documentary Period. End of Sentence., which is available on Netflix. You can also donate to help them in their efforts here.