[Photo credit: Sarah Webb]
Philanthropic efforts tend to fall into one of two models: “give the man a fish” (charity) vs. “teach the man to fish” (empowerment). Increasingly, impact-driven philanthropists understand that for truly sustainable solutions, we need to engage in more empowerment, less charity.
The menstrual equity gap — a global crisis of women and girls enduring fear and shame because they lack access to affordable, safe, and reliable period products — is no exception.
Making cheaper feminine hygiene products or handing them out for free is only part of the solution, as noted in a recent New York Times opinion piece, “Menstrual Pads Can’t Fix Prejudice.” The author, Professor Chris Bobel of the University of Massachusetts, argues that such efforts must be paired with “innovative, inclusive and culturally sensitive community-based education” to succeed.
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At Days for Girls International, we’ve paired distributions of our washable pads — DfG Kits sewed and assembled by thousands of volunteers around the world — with a health education curriculum since our 2008 inception. A few years later, however, we determined that a third component was also needed: Teaching women to make and market the pads themselves. By pivoting from a charity to empowerment mindset, we’re creating jobs for women in developing countries, reaching more last-mile communities, and tackling the generational cycle of stigma, shame, and poverty.
Including production from our 75 certified enterprises in 15 countries, Days for Girls has reached one million women and girls; we’re on track to launch hundreds more enterprises and reach five million women and girls by 2024. Scaling up requires hiring additional staff and reaching out to impact investors and corporate partners, but volunteers and donors remain integral to advancing our mission, too.
“Through volunteers, we can quickly respond to short-term community needs; through enterprises, we can provide long-term solutions,” explains Sarah Webb, Days for Girls International’s global enterprise programs director. “It’s a hybrid approach, where each side complements the other.”
Spectrum of Menstrual Health Enterprises
Days for Girls is part of a growing spectrum of menstrual health enterprises advancing reusable or biodegradable products, affordable materials, and health education. While “Pad Man” Arunachalam Muruganantham and his sanitary pad-making machines have inspired a Bollywood film, Indian organizations incorporating stronger environmental and educational angles include Eco Femme and the Myna Mahila Foundation. (The latter was also one of seven charities chosen by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, for their wedding registry.) In Africa, other menstrual health enterprises include AFRIpads in Uganda, Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) in Rwanda, and Schools for Salone, producing DfG Kits in Sierra Leone.
By adopting social enterprise models, nonprofits and for-profits alike can broaden and deepen their impact. The average Days for Girls enterprise has the potential to reach 600 women and girls every year — resulting in specific, measurable outputs and outcomes immediately and for years to come. In a matter of weeks, menstrual health enterprises create products that enable more girls to attend school and income-generating opportunities so their parents can afford to send them to school. Over time, sources ranging from UNICEF to the World Bank agree that the resulting economic benefits of more education for women and girls can boost an entire country’s GDP.
How Impact-Driven Philanthropists Can Get Involved:
Learn More and Direct Your Giving
- A summary of menstrual health research studies and sources can be found at Days for Girls International’s website. The organization also released its first Enterprise Evaluation Report in January 2018.
- Read more from Days for Girls at Giving Compass.
Original contribution by Nicole Neroulias Gupte.
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