Recently, I started volunteering for Community Development Network, a Cameroonian non-profit focused on rural development and empowerment. They’ve put forth a number of campaigns to improve the lives of (especially) women and children in rural Cameroon, with incredible projects to promote dental hygiene, to learn IT and computer skills, and to educate women and young people about HIV and AIDS.
I shared with the founder my personal dream of making reusable period supplies to girls in remote areas around the world to keep them in school. To my surprise he said we should go for it. For the past few weeks, we’ve been doing research into the scope of the problem in Cameroon, working on our project proposal, and contacting reusable pad and menstrual cup manufacturers for donations that could change the lives of school girls in Cameroon.
Less than 50% of girls in Cameroon attend primary school, and of that group, only 32% will continue on to secondary school. The girls who do attend school will miss an average of 4 days per month due to a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. These missed days cause them to fall behind, which means that 12% of them will repeat a grade at some point. With school attendance rates already this low for girls, it’s safe to say that this problem is devastating and unconscionable.
We know from research that educating girls improves the economic status of a rural community on the whole. That is our goal with the Menstrual Hygiene Project. Our initial aim is modest – we want to provide resuable pads and/or menstrual cups to 1,500 girls in rural Cameroon. These products will be distributed along with education around their sexual and reproductive health in order to reduce shame around periods and increase girls’ self-confidence. By improving school attendance rates, the ultimate goal is of course to empower girls to receive their education, and to increase their economic opportunities.
Reusable pads are made to last for at least 5 years, are chemical and adhesive-free, and are much better for the environment than the disposable variety. Menstrual cups are designed to last at least years, have significantly lower rates of TSS (toxic shock syndrome) than tampons, and can be left in for 8-12 hours at a time. They are easily cleaned between uses, and need only to be sterilized in boiling water between periods. It was important to us to provide both as an option, given that there are still very strong cultural barriers for some women to physically insert a menstrual hygiene product. We believe that with these tools, girls can gain confidence in their bodies, understand the often confusing process of puberty better, and feel comfortable to attend school without shame during their periods.
We desperately want to make a difference in the lives of these girls. We are trying to raise €3000, enough to purchase supplies for these girls from a manufacturer who has already agreed to give us a bulk discount, as well as to construct and produce the educational materials that will be distributed along with them. Even $5 makes a difference. If you are able to do so, you may donate to our project here.
You can also spread the word about our project, which in my mind is just as valuable as contributing money. We are using Thunderclap to send out a blast of messages at the same time. If you’d like to participate by sharing that way, please click here.
In 2015, having a period should not be a barrier to accessing education for girls. Let us lift up these 1500 girls together and make a lasting difference in their lives.