Every 28 days or so, half the world gets their period. Yet millions of girls around the world cannot afford sanitary supplies because a pad can cost as much as a full day’s work. Instead girls use things like rags, bark, and mud. To create a world in which every woman and girl can manage her period in a hygienic way, the SHE28 campaign (an initiative of SHE, Sustainable Health Enterprises) is a program to educate boys and girls, men and women about women’s periods. To help girls and women even further, the program also enables them to spin banana fibers into gold. (OK, not really, but the project spinning banana fibers into affordable pads called “go! pads” is a golden idea that has the goal of helping 350,000 girls and women in Rwanda by 2017!
In advance of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, we interviewed Marie Louise Umulisa, a mom of two and leader in educating Rwandan women about their periods. Marie Louise is the Production Staff Leader at SHE’s Ngoma factory, and shares why working with SHE has been a life-changing experience.
Marie Louise’s journey has taken her from a small-shop-owner selling food, to an empowered and inspired leader helping women jumpstart social businesses to create and provide sanitary pads to women and girls in need. “When I look at my daughter, I remember all these girls who face challenges in puberty,” Marie Louise says. “This is because of the lack of information about their bodies and their periods. These girls are unaware of what’s going on and often face unwanted pregnancies.”
Now, working hard in her community teaching parents, girls, and future mothers why periods should not be viewed as an illness, but rather a sign of maturity, Marie is helping to break the silence. Also key is making sure boys and men understand their responsibility to support women, and helping parents teach their children more effectively about puberty and sex.
Marie Louise didn’t learn about her period from her parents and was taught that she didn’t have to go to school like boys because women “aren’t as productive as men.” A woman can miss up to five years in her lifetime from school or work because of social stigma around her period. This leads to lost wages, career potential, and educational opportunities. It’s not just a loss for girls and women — it’s a loss for entire communities.
Through women like Marie Louise, the SHE28 campaign empowers women by teaching them how to start income generating activities and take care of their families. Education teaches entire communities that there is no need to stop activities, feel embarrassed, or be isolated because of a period. SHE28 hopes to help policy makers understand that a girl’s period should be taken care of – and no longer be a barrier to her education and her dreams of a future filled with hope, knowledge and opportunities.
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Image Credits: SHE http://sheinnovates.com/our-work/