Why teach girls how to make feminine pads?
The idea grew out of a conversation I had with Dr. Gerbreab Barnabas, Director of Public Health in Tigrai Province, Ethiopia in 2009.
His most pressing issue was to “keep the girls in school”. Once girls began menstruating it was just a matter of time before they dropped out of school. Dr. Gebreab told me one of the main the reasons was the lack of adequate protection during menses. Commercial pads are available in the cities at a cost of 12birr (about $2.00) for 6 thin pads-like the panty liners available in the US. I promised right then that I would develop a product suitable for Ethiopian school girls.
I researched what women used before commercial pads became available in the US & Europe. Information out of Europe showed that women had made their own pads from cotton as early as the 1700s. There are a number of websites today where one can purchase reusable pads. I choose multiple designs, purchased an array of materials and asked the ETP students if they would be willing to make, use and report their experience with using the pads. Twenty five students participated. Cindy Smalletz at CNMTL set up a wiki page. Together Cindy developed a questionnaire for the students’ responses. The product had to be culturally sensitive, easy to care for, reliable/absorbent and comfortable to wear. The final choice was the double layer square pad folded in three and secured in a holder.
With the help of Dr. Susan Burstein, of the Earth Institute, I worked with her assistant Aberash Abey, the Social Sector Coordinator for the Earth Institute-Millennium Cities in Mekelle.
I developed a work book sent it to Aberash who showed it to the various Ministries and got their permission to contact schools requesting a visit. We planned to visit 6 schools in Mekelle in 3 days, hoping to meet 10 girls per school.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead
In a week’s time we had taught 206 high school girls in Mekelle, 75 Health Extension Workers in Wukro, 25 midwifery students at the University of Addis Ababa, and 88 high school students in Addis Ababa.
School Administrators, teachers the students were totally engaged in the project. The girls who had successfully learned how to make the pads were given permission to teach the skill in others schools.
To date thousands of girls are making, using, teaching how to make and care for the pads. Hygiene and coping with menstruation is included in the presentation.
In 2012 we held a workshop in Mekelle and invited 40 high school students. DR. Gebreab sent 24 midwifery students from the University. School administrators and teachers attended-a total of 96 attendees were fully engaged for the 8hr workshop.