Think back to when you first got your period. You were probably in middle school or high school and had to sit there in class dealing with the cramps, bloating and uncertainty that came with the pubescent territory. Sure, you were uncomfortable and perhaps in pain, but you were probably at least able to get the necessary products.
But for the approximately 250 million girls around the world who don't have access to menstrual supplies, getting their period can be more than inconvenient; it can keep them from attending school.
Menstrual equity was one of many issues raised at the Girls Speak Out Summit held on Thursday at United Nations headquarters in New York City as part of the International Day of the Girl Child. At the event, girls from around the world gathered to discuss the biggest issues they face as a generation.
One of the participating delegations was from Global G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World), an organization that empowers women and girls to prompt global transformation. Specifically, the girls in attendance were part of their HerStory initiative, which works in 27 countries to listen to, amplify and champion the voices of girls through after-school programming designed to foster self-advocacy.
In addition to attending events at the U.N., the girls also took part in the weeklong Global HerStory Summit, where they met with girls and women from around the world to discuss and workshop various community initiatives. At the end of the week, the girls will return home with a small amount of capital from Global G.L.O.W. to help implement their project.
One of these projects is based in Uganda and involves girls creating and distributing reusable menstrual pads to members of their community as well as educating them about period hygiene, facts and stigma. Susan Tusabe is a mentor who works with the HerStory group in Uganda, and she tells SheKnows that girls in their community are dropping out of school in large numbers because they don't have adequate menstrual supplies.
Cloth to make the reusable pads comes from a local factory, and Tusabe and other adult mentors teach the girls how to cut the correct shape and then sew the pads to assemble them. In addition, she says that once the girls learn this skill, it's something they can do with their families to earn extra income.
Patience, 14, is one of the girls in the HerStory group in Uganda. She tells SheKnows that when girls feel they have no other option but to drop out of school because they don't have access to period products, many end up in sex work or forced marriages.
"I saw that it would not be good if most girls are dropping out of school, because in this world, girls should have a good future, which could lead to a better world," she says.
Patience also notes that many girls don't know how to keep themselves clean during their periods, so in addition to how to make and use the pads, teaching the community about menstrual hygiene is another aspect of the program. And that community also includes the boys, Tusabe says, noting that some of the boys are already supportive of their project.
When it comes to a strategy for decreasing stigma, Patience says talking about it and teaching others about menstruation is key. "Because if I teach you, you can also teach another," she explains. "That’s how the program continues."