Around the globe, women and girls still miss work and school due to their periods. Saundra Pelletier, CEO of WomanCare Global, talks about her new campaign to increase access to sanitary products in the developing world.
Article originally published on The Daily Beast, September 23, 2013
Hillary Clinton recently remarked that we cannot have development in today’s world without partnerships with the private sector. I couldn’t agree more. How else can we turn ideas into action, create impact at scale or solve real problems. It takes collaboration. We know this at WomanCareGlobal. We live this at WomanCare Global. Our mission is to provide access to reproductive health solutions for women around the world. We bring family-planning products to the places where they are needed most; places where value and quality are the exception and not the rule; places where women will travel for days to stand in line for contraception.
We are working very hard to change this reality and create a new paradigm where women will have uninterrupted access to safe and affordable family-planning products. Yet we know we can’t do this alone. If we tried, we wouldn’t be effective in either scope or scale. We wouldn’t be able to reach the providers in Ghana or women in Kenya or midwives in Nairobi. No, we need partners, we need donors, we need distributors, we need physicians and healthcare providers and we need people like you to be aware of—and to appreciate—the challenges facing women and girls in developing countries.
To be fair, there is no shortage of issues or worthy causes. We are focused on women’s reproductive healthcare, which is a critical and highly visible issue. However, there are a host of issues that are no less concerning but are often less obvious. Feminine hygiene, for example, is an issue that is adjacent to women’s healthcare but doesn’t garner a lot of international attention or interest. It is likely that you haven’t thought all that much about the state of feminine hygiene in the developing world and it’s likely that you are not alone. After all, it doesn’t feel like an issue that should be top of mind in light of everything else going on in the world today. But it is important, and here’s why—women are losing their chance to earn and to learn.
Managing the menstrual cycle in the developing world is very complicated.
Feminine hygiene products are not readily available and many alternatives are primitive and can be permanently damaging. The stigma around these products leads to lower self-esteem, lower grades and ultimately lower wages. When women miss work they lose their jobs and when girls miss school they lose educational pace with boys making them more vulnerable inside and outside of the classroom. Research at Build Africa, a non-governmental organization, found that nearly 30 percent of adolescent girls missed a minimum of four days of school during their period. More shockingly, the Voice of America study on “Sex for Sanitation” cited the following:
“Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign.”
Innovative solutions are needed to address these problems. Women and girls can and should be able to learn and earn their way out of poverty and we can help them. In a few weeks we will be launching an important new program called Project Dignity. We will be donating one Softcup, a reusable menstrual cup, to women and girls in the developing world for every Softcup purchased in the United States. We anticipate that we will distribute over 300,000 free Softcups globally during the donation period.
Our partners at Evofem, makers of the Softcup, and we at WomanCareGlobal believe that empowering women and girls may ultimately be the greatest gift that we can give. By donating this simple tool, we can help women stay at work and help girls stay in school and, in turn, create a more equitable world. By working together—by partnering—we can impact the lives of those less fortunate than us and make an important statement about the kind of world in which we want to live. In the spirit of partnership, we encourage you to join us.