[Photo credit: Sarah Webb]
The idea of a woman using unsanitary materials like rags, leaves and cardboard during her monthly cycle may seem unfathomable, but it’s reality for many around the world.
In addition, at least 500 million girls and women lack adequate facilities for menstrual health management, according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). Others are sexually exploited in exchange for menstrual care supplies. And the rest use nothing — remaining isolated and stigmatized, perpetuating this devastating cycle for the next generation.
This makes the role of impact-driven philanthropists more important than ever. Those who want to see measurable progress on a range of worthwhile causes — education, the environment, global health, homelessness, women and girls, and income inequality — should consider the common denominator.
The menstrual equity gap.
When a woman lacks access to affordable menstrual care solutions — and accurate health education about their bodies — the repercussions for her family, community, and country are staggering.
- UNESCO estimates that 10 percent of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss up to 20 percent of the school year due to their menstrual cycle.
- In rural western Nepal, girls are sent to live in small, isolated sheds while menstruating — a custom that has led to dozens of deaths in recent years, The New York Times reports.
- In India, 23 percent percent of girls drop out of school because they lack access to toilets and sanitary pads.
- In the United States, sales tax on feminine hygiene products and inadequate supplies in homeless shelters, prisons, and schools disproportionately burdens low-income women and girls.
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“We Can Solve This in Our Lifetime”
Cost, convenience, and cultural factors have converged to create a menstrual health crisis; a smart solution must be affordable, attractive, and accessible. Furthermore, we must combine this with appropriate health education and grassroots outreach — for boys and men, too — to shatter the stigmas associated with menstruation. Finally, by teaching women to sew and sell their own pads, we create a sustainable strategy that also generates income for them and paves a path to reach last-mile communities.
Locally and globally, menstrual health challenges are staggering. But just as these challenges doesn’t exist in a vacuum, neither do the solutions. Days for Girls International, a nonprofit organization based in Washington state, is harnessing the power of innovation — a patented washable pad — volunteerism, and social entrepreneurship in more than 100 countries. Our movement is part of a larger ecosystem of community leaders, philanthropists, NGOs, medical professionals, educators, policymakers, volunteers, and investors working to move the needle the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Since 2008, we have engaged more than 50,000 volunteers on six continents and reached more than one million women and girls in 119 countries; we’re on track to reach 5 million by 2024.
“There are many challenges in the world that are hard to solve. This doesn’t need to be one of them,” said Celeste Mergens, founder and CEO of Days for Girls International. “We can solve this within our lifetime.”
How Impact-Driven Philanthropists Can Get Involved:
Learn More and Direct Your Giving
Between International Women’s Day (March 8) and Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28), read more about this issue and contribute to menstrual health campaigns around the world. Several projects are listed in the Global Giving Girl Fund Campaign, including a Days for Girls project in Nepal.
Become an Advocate
Join Global Citizen’s action campaign to “push for more research, funding, and education so that menstruation will never impact a girl’s education, health, and potential.”
Attend an Event
March 8: Gates Foundation Discovery Center (Seattle, WA) International Women’s Day program.
International Women’s Day events in your community.
Menstrual Hygiene Day events in your community (coming soon).
Original contribution by Nicole Neroulias Gupte, communications director of Days for Girls International, a nonprofit organization that 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.
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