The Problem of the Period: Why menstruation is holding us back from changing the world and how you can reverse that with your sewing machine
I clearly remember the first time I couldn’t go swimming because I hadn’t yet learned how to use a tampon. I was fourteen or fifteen, visiting my grandparents’ house in San Clemente. They lived right on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and also had a condo a few blocks away with a lovely little pool. It was a teenage girl’s dream – a parent-free week to work on my tan and watch as much (forbidden!) MTV as possible after grandma and grandpa went to bed.
But I had this little problem: my period.
A few days in to my trip I reached the pinnacle of my frustration with being stuck in the house. (Because obviously the only thing you do when you’re from the mountains of Oregon visiting the beaches of southern California is go to the beach. Duh. What else was there?) I rode my bike to the nearest drug store, picked up a box of plastic applicator tampons, and then returned home to draw myself a warm bath to help me relax. I tried my hardest to figure out how to get that stupid tampon in there, but my attempt caused me to faint (literally) in the tub. It’s a good thing there wasn’t much water in it and that I ‘came to’ fairly quickly, but needless to say I didn’t try again during that trip.
I was miserable. Fifteen and miserable because my period was hindering my tan.
Dignity, health, safety, and a future.
In the developing world girls miss up to eight months of school in three years due to menstruation. Girls use bits of old fabric, leaves, mattress stuffing, newspaper, cornhusks, rocks, you name it, all in an attempt to stay in school. These attempts at managing their monthly cycles can lead to painful infections, extreme social stigma, and shame. In many nations it also leads to early marriage (since menstruating girls who aren’t in school are considered “eligible”) or exploitation in orphanages and school systems where corrupt head masters trade feminine products for sexual “favors”.
We know that keeping girls in school is one of the key components to bringing lasting change in the developing world. If we want to keep girls in school, then we need to start thinking about their personal needs—and what is holding them back—including feminine hygiene.
Days for Girls (an official Girl Effect project), and their network of thousands of volunteers, have already reached more than 60,000 girls and women in sixty nations on six continents. They are empowering girls and women by providing quality sustainable menstrual management in the form of reusable cloth pads (much like the trend of using cloth diapers in the US) and reproductive health education.
It’s not just the gift of cloth pads, it’s the gift of greater dignity, improved health and safety, and access to life-changing education. The mission of Days for Girls is to reach every girl and woman by 2022 – a lofty goal, but attainable if we can harness the hearts of women everywhere and mobilize them to lend a hand, a sewing machine, and a voice.
According to Days for Girls:
“It’s working. Days for Girls empowers days of education, days of health, days of safety, days of dignity. We do this by direct distribution of sustainable feminine hygiene kits with many nonprofits, by raising awareness, by helping other organizations start their own programs and, [most] importantly, by helping impoverished communities start their own programs to supply kits and training.”
Changing our future by empowering girls.
I think back to my teenage angst and frustration over not being able to swim while menstruating (don’t worry, I’ve since figured it out), and it blows me away to think about what my teenage years would have looked like if I’d been born somewhere else.
It grieves my heart to think that something so simple, so baseline, so normal—a menstrual period—could be the deciding factor of a girl staying in school or not.
I realize there’s more to keeping girls in school than simply addressing reproductive health issues and making feminine hygiene products available, but this is one very real need that we can actually tackle together.
Days for Girls is not just handing out solutions, they are educating and equipping entire communities of girls to change their own future and change the future for girls coming after them.
And so it’s not actually our periods that are the problem (yes, my post title was meant to be an attention-grabber). The real problem is a lack of access to effective management of them.
Let’s change that, shall we?
Get involved and give girls back their days.
Do you sew? Do you have a women’s group, moms group, or church group looking for a service project? Please consider getting involved in Days for Girls.
Look for a Days for Girls chapter near you, or send them to us!
In remote PNG where my family and I have worked for the past few years, girls and women tie a string around their waists when they are menstruating and tuck fabric between their legs, tying it to the string (they have no underwear). My friend and co-worker, Melissa, is working with our local Days for Girls chapter to help change that. If you’d like to send us materials, money for purchase of materials, new underwear, or sew some pads yourself, please let me know and I’ll get you all the details and connect you with Melissa and our local chapter leader, Glynnis. That’s these smiling lovelies, right here:
These photos are from of our latest Days for Girls sewing bee – a roomful of heartfelt women empowering women with their scissors, fabric, thread, and the gift of a regular Sunday afternoon.
Because sometimes hope for our future looks like a bunch of women crafting their way to changing the world.
Dear friends, please consider how you can get involved in Days for Girls. I implore you. Girls are our future, so let’s reach them and empower them. Every girl. Everywhere. Period. Let me know in the comments if you’re in and I’ll get you connected with everything you need to know to get started.