Photograph — ukfiet.org

On Monday, March 4, 2019, Britain launched a global “period poverty” fund and taskforce to tackle the stigma around menstruation, and also help women and girls around the world access sanitary products by 2030. The announcement was made by the Minister for Women and Equalities and Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt.

According to a survey by the development and humanitarian organisation for advancing children’s rights, Plan International, 10 percent of girls in Britain are unable to afford sanitary products. The percentage is the same in Africa, with worse impacts. The United Nations estimates that approximately one in 10 girls in Africa skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely due to a lack of clean and private sanitation facilities. It is also estimated that half of all women and girls in poor countries use clothes, paper, and goatskin during their periods as they can’t afford to buy sanitary products.

To tackle this issue, the British government have pledged the sum of two million pounds ($2.64 million) to organizations working to end period poverty globally. It has also earmarked 250,000 pounds to create a task force of government departments, charities and private enterprises to tackle the issue.

“Empowerment starts when you are young. Girls should be able to focus on their education and their future without being worried about or embarrassed by their periods… This is a global issue. Without education, women and girls around the world won’t be able to take the steps to reach their true potential,” Mordaunt stated.

According to Ruby Raut, CEO and Co-Founder of WUKA, a company that creates eco-friendly period wear, one way to tackle period poverty is by having open and honest conversations instigated by governments and  subsequently backed up by  manufacturers, retailers, social enterprises, and health care professionals. “Period poverty is real and is happening all around the world including here in the UK and it needs to be addressed. However there is only one way to resolve this issue, being smart and investing in sustainable solutions to end the period poverty permanently,” she said.

In Africa, Namibia is one country that is actively working to end period poverty through sustainable solutions. Just last week Eco Sanitary Trading launched a manufacturing plant for the production of affordable, quality, reusable and disposable pads of different sizes for women and girls in Namibia. Naomi Kefas, the managing director of the company said establishing the company is necessary to tackle period poverty in Namibia.  

During a visit to Rundu in Northern Namibia a few years ago, Kefas was approached by a young girl who asked her to provide food and sanitary pads during her next visit. That plea made Kefas realise that besides hunger, young women and girls in Rundu had other challenges. “That moment I knew I had to make a difference in the lives of these girls,” she said.  It took two years of research and development to finally create the eco-friendly sanitary pad that her company offers. “Our product ‘Perfect fit’ is true to its brand name as it is perfect in quality, fits well and is also perfect for the pocket,” she said.

Furthermore, the establishment of Eco Sanitary Trading has created employment for 26 Namibian youths. It is estimated that within a year, full production capacity will provide jobs for  95 people. Hopefully, Kefas’ company and other African based organizations like it will be a beneficiary of the $2.64 million global “period poverty” fund.

International statistics on period poverty:

  • In India, a quarter of girls miss school because of menstruation, and only 12 percent of girls and women have access to sanitary pads.
  • In Senegal, a study found that 30 percent of girls who had undergone FGM had an infection and additional menstrual problems related to their excision.
  • In the UK, over 137,700 children have missed school because of period poverty. And 40 percent of girls have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford menstrual products.
  • In Kenya, only 50 percent of girls say that they openly discuss menstruation at home. And only 32 percent of rural schools have facilities where girls can change the products for the period during the day.
  • In some parts of the world, 2/3 of girls had no idea what was happening to them when they got their first period.
  • In many parts of the world, a girl’s first period still marks her readiness for marriage and childbearing. This drives child marriage, teenage pregnancy and educational drop-out.

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