International Women's Day 2021
Choose to Challenge:
Period Poverty and the Impact on Education
International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the economic, social and cultural achievements of women, as well as highlighting the issues women are facing globally. The 2021 theme is ‘choose to challenge’, recognising that from challenge comes change.
The Mudeka Foundation has chosen to challenge period poverty. A plight disproportionately affecting women and girls which severely affects education and is often a taboo subject that merits more discussion. As a charity we have provided reusable sanitary items for girls in Zimbabwe since 2016 and we supported the building of a toilet block in our Muda school to enable adolescent girls to attend schools safely.
Continue reading to learn more about period poverty, and why it is important to challenge this especially in education.
What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty refers to a lack of access to sanitary products and hygienic bathroom spaces due to financial and environmental constraints. Period poverty disproportionately affects people with uteruses in the Global South; it causes 1 in 10 girls in Africa to miss school and may force individuals into harmful and emotionally distressing situations.
Period poverty and schooling are intrinsically linked. Water Aid found that 1 in 3 schools worldwide do not have toilets, meaning that individuals on their period are unable to safely attend school during this time, furthering the education gender gap. To combat this, we funding the building of a toilet block in Muda so girls would not have to miss out on their education.
Period poverty exists within a discourse of taboo regarding menstruation. The lack of information on periods for both girls and boys can be dangerous, creating stigma and secrecy around a normal bodily function and furthermore has economic implications.
Why This Matters
In sub saharan Africa some girls will miss up to 20% of their school year because of menstruation, resulting in missing out on key elements of their education due to factors they cannot control and have minimal support with. The current lack of provisions for individuals on their periods can amount to structural violence (where a social structure may prevent a person from accessing their fundamental rights such as education).
Without having access to toilets or sanitary protection, girls are unable to change sanitary items in a hygienic way and in a regular fashion. Girls are unable to safely attend schools that lack toilets and the lack of sanitary protection may lead to the use of dirty rags, thereby leaving girls more susceptible to disease and infection.
Missing out on school can leave girls worried and anxious for their future in education and if they feel unable to catch up, this can lead to dropping out of school. With traumatic period pain, societal taboos and sometimes exclusion from communities during this time, individuals can be left feeling shame, confusion, distress and vulnerability.
Many period products are made with plastic that is wasted and thrown away to further harm the environment. These products can also contain ingredients which are considered toxic to the human body alongside harming the environment. A sustainable solution is often supplying and using reusable sanitary items. Offering these products to people currently without access can be life changing and will ensure that a solution to period poverty isn’t at the detriment to the environment.
It is clear that there remains the need to challenge the culture surrounding menstruation, and by doing so, access to education should improve.
What is Being Done?
Globally, the conversation on period poverty has started, however there remains a distinct lack of policy action on a large scale. There are success stories, in Tanzania, a puberty book has been produced, and distributed to girls aged 10-14 through schools. It has been shown to significantly improve girls’ knowledge and attitude towards periods. In a trial in Ghana of 120 girls, school attendance improved by 9% after 5 months when girls were given free sanitary pads along with education on periods.These successes should be recognised and replicated elsewhere on a larger scale.
The Mudeka Foundation strives to provide disadvantaged children with an opportunity for education so in order to do this we have to address period poverty at the root. We recognise the challenges of period poverty, so fund the purchase and distribution of MyPads, a pack of reusable sanitary pads for individuals in Muda to ensure that menstruation will not be a barrier to education.
The Mudeka Foundation distributes approximately 100 packs of reusable sanitary items a year to girls attending the schools we sponsor. The feedback from these girls is that the we really make a difference.
Furthermore, the Foundation recognised the need for separate hygienic toilet facilities and included them in the Muda building project. We will continue working on these projects to tackle period poverty within the wider Muda community.
How to Help
The MyPads need replacing every year, and we are always seeking partners in this project. A pack costs just $9 (£6.50) and to maintain our goal of providing education to disadvantaged children, it is imperative that we continue to support this. Whilst the challenge of period poverty remains significant we know that by providing reusable sanitary items alongside supporting an ongoing conversation surrounding menstruation, we can help remove taboo around this topic and help individuals feel safer during a vulnerable time.