Impoverished Girls Who Can’t Afford Sanitary Protection

Impoverished Girls Who Can’t Afford Sanitary Protection Face Health, Education Risks: How You Can Help

girlsslum2For girls living in impoverished countries, a first period is anything but a momentous rite of passage. Not when they’re forced to dig through trash heaps, cut tattered mattress bits or tear clothes into rags to create makeshift sanitary protection.

From Kenya to Bangladesh, girls living in poverty who can’t afford menstrual protection face health and education risks. There’s potential for infection from using scraps, and, what’s more, often times the sanitary napkins leak. Out of sheer embarrassment, girls just stay home from school.

Girls in Ghana, for example, miss up to five days each month when they have their periods, according to a study published last year by Oxford University.

A young girl named Fatuma, 16, lives in a Nairobi, Kenya slum. In the slum, there is commerce and industry, but no toilets, sanitation or garbage pickup. Residents pay a couple of shillings to use latrines and fill up plastic containers at a spigot. Bicyclists and vendors on the bumpy dirt roads dodge sewage and other debris.

Daily life in the slum is trying, and getting one’s period is one problem compounded on many others.

Although a pack of 10 sanitary pads costs some 70 shillings, or about a dollar, it’s an incomprehensible cost for someone whose family may have to choose between food and sanitary protection.

“We were just in a dead end,” Fatuma, 16, told one of the interviewers. “My parents couldn’t afford pads because they’re expensive. So I’d miss class — I’d miss math and science, my favorite.”

“Period Girl”

Fatuma says during that time of the month, she and her peers are called “p.g.” or “period girl” by the boys. There’s a stigma attached to menstruation that’s been ingrained in both boys and girls from a young age.

UNICEF has been working to address this negative perception attached to menstruation, according to senior UNICEF advisor for Sanitation and Hygiene.

A 2009 UNICEF study found that girls miss 20 percent of the school year in areas where menstruation is considered taboo.

In areas such as Bangladesh, women will leave their compounds during menstruation — out of shame, they’ll put their used period cloths in a stale corner where there’s mold and mildew.

The advisor said there’s hope, and points to the fact that HIV/AIDS used to be much more taboo to talk about, but it now stands as a model for how open the conversation around menstruation could someday become.

In most places like Africa menstruation is not something spoken about in front of men or certain categories of people.  You can maybe discuss it with a Mother or Auntie – but if you look at how HIV/AIDS has increased discussion around sex and STDs, it’s encouraging.   We still have a couple steps to go before menstruation gets there.

“Sex for pads”

If the best case scenario for these young girls is using old clothing and mattress bits, then the worst case is a young girl actually having sex in exchange for money — funds girls then designate solely for sanitary protection.

That happens a lot – They call it ‘sex for pads.’  The girls need money and don’t like to bother their mom or dad, who’s out doing casual labor for a couple dollars a day.”

With “sex for pads” so widespread, much of what we are doing is offering health and  protection education. It’s not just a matter of providing handouts, we are creating a sustainable and an empowering system.

Source: By Rose George

Finding Solutions

Fatuma and a host of other girls are recipients of the menstruation kits.  The kits contain eight reusable sanitary pads, a pair of underwear, soap and a reusable waterproof bag, along with education materials on HIV prevention.

The sanitary pads are made of 100 per cent cotton.   The sanitary kits cost $25 to create and transport, and will last them for a period of 3 years.

So many girls have responded saying that being able to manage their period has relieved a problem that added to many others. Some of these girls are oprhans, come from single parent homes or just beyond poverty.  Missing school is such a big deal to them because they rely heavily on the support of their teachers.

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