8 Menstrual Health Advocacy Organizations Impacting Women and Girls in Africa
by Tokunbo Kujore, Impact Analyst and Founder, Afro Girls
Hello Aunt Flo
When I got my first period, I wasn’t ready to be a woman. The health and hygiene education course, given a couple of years before this day, did not prepare me for the reality of the arrival of my monthly visitor, PMS or the pain of cramps. I knew it would come eventually, but I figured I would deal with when it comes - until then, hakuna-matata. In a daze of disbelief, I told my grandmother that I was bleeding and waited for her to react on my behalf - she didn't. Instead, she patiently showed me how to use and dispose of a pad, then gave me a mini version of the you are now a woman speech in Yoruba.
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) caused the world to go into lockdown a couple of months ago, we weren’t ready for the unknown. I can’t deny the fact that we are all feeling the effects of the pandemic mentally, physically, financially and emotionally. For the first time in years, as the world scrambled to stock up on supplies and food, the possibility of not being able to get the feminine hygiene products I need for my next period, put me in a familiar state of worry and disbelief. I thought about the first arrival of Aunt Flo and how blessed I was to have had my first experience into womanhood be with my grandmother and how fortunate I was to have pads and medicine readily available at the time.
This isn’t the case for millions of girls and women around the world, especially where most of my impact work is based - Africa.
The global quarantine has brought to light the increasing shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls, the unpaid labor women provide daily to their communities and families and how girls are even more vulnerable to early marriage and other unfavorable challenges that young women are susceptible to due to the halt of life as we knew it. The pandemic, however, did not stop periods - a topic that has remained in the dark and overlooked in the quarantine narrative.
The inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including sanitary products, proper washing and private facilities, waste management and sensitivity training can stop girls from reaching their full potential. Period poverty - the improper management of menstrual health and stigma of mensuration - affects girls and women from all socio-economic backgrounds, but is especially hard on those who are not able to afford the necessary tools. It is one of the seven major reasons why 52 million (pre-pandemic) girls are out of school across Africa. According to the World Bank, in Africa, some girls will miss as much as 20 percent of the school year during their menstrual cycle.
Getting your period, especially for the first time, can also take an emotional toll on young women. Cultural taboos, based on the lack of informed education and awareness surrounding menstrual health, lead many communities and even family members to believe that a young woman on her period is unclean. Last year, a Kenyan teenager committed suicide after being period-shamed by her teacher after bleeding through her clothes. Jackline Chepngeno was reportedly kicked out of class after getting her period for the first time. Jackline's mother told reporters that her daughter didn’t have a pad on hand, and bled through her skirt. She said the teacher called her daughter “dirty,” and humiliated her publicly.
There are also a number of health risks associated with improper menstrual hygiene care, including negative reproductive effects and infections. Risks could be greater if the woman or girl has undergone female genital mutilation.
There's no reason any woman should be embarrassed or worried for experiencing her period. During and post-quarantine, access to feminine hygiene products should not be a luxury and effective reproductive health education should not be a privilege, but a necessity for the very natural and shameless phenomenon that happens in our bodies. If men had periods, would period poverty exist?
It’s time for action.
May 28th is Menstrual Hygiene Day and Afro Girls has partnered with Menstrual Hygiene Day Organization (#MHDay), a global advocacy platform created by WASH United in 2013, that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls. As we make sense of our new normal in every area of life, it's imperative that we take action towards changing the narrative of periods, raise awareness and change the negative social norms around MHM, especially during these difficult times. While global organizations like the United Nations (UN), United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI), Girls Opportunity Alliance, Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and ActionAid develop partnerships to combat these challenges through Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 5, 6, and 17, here are 8 organizations who are speaking up for women and girls, championing for better menstrual hygiene practices and preparing young women and men on periods and healthy habits across Africa:
#FreethePeriod Initiative is a campaign to increase the accessibility of menstrual products in Rwanda. The initiative addresses the challenges young women face during their period and aims to ease access of period products for each and every woman through advocacy and lobbying for tax exemptions - a step that will lower the prices of sanitary pads. Free the Period also fundraises for funds to buy sanitary pads which will be distributed in schools. They have distributed thousands of pads to a number of schools this year alone.
ZanaAfrica Foundation equips adolescent girls in Kenya with the tools they need to safely navigate puberty and step into their potential, while also leading global advocacy efforts to break the period taboo.
Since 2013, they've supplied over 50,000 girls with health education, sanitary pads, underwear and mentors.
Dignity Period helps Ethiopian girls stay in school by providing the supplies and education they need to manage menstruation. Dignity Period's outreach extends to the Tigray and Afar regions of Ethiopia helping over 800,000 girls.
Last year they reached 175 schools, educated 135,000 students, delivered 66,000 pad kits and saw a 24% decrease in school absences among girls, compared to boys.
Padding Africa provides sanitary pad kits for girls to have a better chance of a future.
The organization raises money to help women and girls experiencing period poverty in Southern Africa become self-sustainable through micro-businesses, giving women the opportunity to work by buying the pads they make from the donations and sponsors and also giving the girls a solution to attend school by distributing the reusable sanitary pad kits.
Since it's launch, Padding Africa has supported women in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Upcoming projects will be in launched in Zambia, Botswana and Madagascar.
Pad Up Africa
Pad Up Africa is a non-profit organization established in 2017 which seeks to curb the deficits knowledge gap and promote healthy skills on good menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls and women in Africa.
They aim to sensitize and support teenage girls by providing basic Reproductive Health Education and donations of sanitary pads.
LoloTalks empowers communities through comprehensive sex education and menstrual health advocacy every single day. Developing communities, one conversation at a time, LoloTalks tackles social issues people do not always want to address by organizing events and programs that create awareness, are educational, and foster discussions about stigmatized topics ranging from sexuality to menstrual hygiene.
Their NoDayOff Campaign, distributed more than 1,000 disposable menstrual pads to women and girls in Festac Town, Nigeria.
Inua Dada Foundation
Inua Dada Foundation collaborates with partners in the public and private sector to ensure that primary school girls of menstruating age in Kenya are receiving menstrual health management education and sanitary towels so that they can be able to attend and complete school successfully.
To date, the foundation has reached 10,120 girls, distributed 91,440 pads and impacted 108 schools.
Days for Girls
Days for Girls increases access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls. They create a world with dignity, health, and opportunity for all. Their movement has reached more than one million girls - and counting!
With your support and action, we can make a true difference in the lives of girls in Africa and around the world. A period should be the end of a sentence, not the end of a girl's full and limitless potential.
Afro Girls inspires African girls to be leaders, innovators and changemakers through education initiatives. To learn more about Afro Girls, our commitment to girls education and other advocates like us across Africa, visit AfroGirlsAfrica.com and follow us on social media @afrogirlsorg