Keeping girls in school in Rwanda with sanitary towels
Marcelene is 17 and lives in Rwanda. Her family can’t afford sanitary towels, so like many girls at her school she had to stay at home when she had her period.
“I have a very big flow so I felt uncomfortable to come to school,” Marcelene said. “I don’t want to dirty myself.”
Missing school has had a bad impact on Marcelene’s grades as it meant she couldn’t sit some of her exams. But now, ActionAid has provided her school with a safe room where girls can get sanitary towels.
“It’s a nice room. If you get your period at school you go and change and go back to classes. If I use a pad, I feel so good and comfortable because it soaks the blood so well. If use the cloth I’m always tense that its going to pass through my uniform and stain it, then the boys see it and it becomes the talk of the day,” she said.
“I think it would be good if all schools had a safe room because it helps so many girls, especially those who can’t afford pads from poor families. It encourages them to stay in school.”
Periods and humanitarian disasters
Women who have lost everything as a result of humanitarian crises tell us that amongst the essential items they need most are sanitary towels, wipes and soap. Without sanitary towels, women and girls are forced to use improvised methods to manage their periods, including torn pieces of clothing and rags, which can cause painful infections.
ActionAid provides kits containing sanitary towels in our humanitarian response work, distributing them in emergencies including the East Africa food crisis in 2017, and the Nepal earthquakes in 2015. This enables women and girls to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity.
Refugee women and girls can’t afford sanitary towels
13-year-old Wesal’s mother was killed in an airstrike on their home in Syria. Her father and grandmother tried to take Wesal and her sisters to Jordan — but at the border her father was arrested and taken back to Syria. They don’t know if he is dead or alive.
Now, Wesal and her three sisters are being brought up by their grandmother, Azziza, in Jordan. Without their mum and dad, the family are struggling to get by.
Wesal started her period last year when she was 12. Her older sister, Nawal, also got her period when she was 12. Now, Azziza has to face the agonising choice of whether to buy food or sanitary products for her granddaughters when they have their periods.
Sanitary towels changing lives in Malawi
In Malawi, ActionAid is training mums in communities to make reusable, low-cost sanitary towels for the poorest girls. These simple sanitary pads are changing lives.
Before, girls who couldn’t afford sanitary pads felt unable to go to school because they were teased by boys if their clothes became stained. Now, not only are girls able to stay in school, but their mums are also building long-term businesses by selling their extra products at the market. This provides the mums with more opportunities to earn an income and support their families.
Sewing reusable sanitary towels
Mother-of-two Ruth’s sewing machine buzzes all day. She’s busy making sanitary towels for girls in Namalusa village, Malawi.
ActionAid provided the sewing machine, and training on how to use it, to her and other mums who were struggling to make ends meet. So far, the mums taking part in this project have made 3000 pads to be distributed to 600 girls.
“I think the program is good. I’ve benefitted from it, and benefiiting others from it,” she said.
One of the girls who has received pads came to her to thank her and say that she was doing better at school because of the pads. Ruth said: “I felt good in my heart, because I never expected I’d be able to make such a difference.”
World Menstrual Hygiene Day
World Menstrual Hygiene Day takes place on 28 May every year. By breaking the silence around periods, and the shame and stigma often associated with them, it raises awareness of the importance of menstrual hygiene in helping women and girls reach their full potential.
Period taboos affect women and girls all over the world. Our YouGov poll in 2016 showed that in the UK, two thirds of women who’ve taken sick leave because of their period were too embarrassed to give the real reason that they couldn’t go to work. In 2016, we marked World Menstrual Hygiene Day by challenging period taboos that hold girls back across the world, through spoof ‘period posters’ that highlight myths surrounding periods.
You may also be interested in…
How access to sanitary products and safe toilets helps keep girls in schools
Read our latest blogs about periods.
Read about our work busting period taboos at Latitude Festival.