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Issue No.114
23 November 2017

Talking Justice: A discreet solution

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Jane Williamson tells us how one woman inspired volunteer action to keep girls in school

 

DAYS FOR GIRLS (DFG) WAS LAUNCHED IN 2008 by Celeste Mergens, an American involved with educating, feeding and clothing a group of orphans in Kenya. She tells of praying for the children, then waking in the night with a burning question: what happens when the girls have their periods? She asked the director of the orphanage and was told that they sit on pieces of cardboard on their beds and wait. Imagine no privacy, no bathing and no appropriate means of coping with menstruation every month.

The key to avoiding poverty

In many countries, menstruating girls and women are forbidden from engaging in a multiplicity of activities of daily life. A critical activity for girls is education: every year that a girl spends in secondary school raises her earning potential by 10-20%. The increased income is suffi cient to raise a girl out of poverty and creates a more prosperous society. We also know that educated girls marry later, delay child-bearing, have fewer - but healthier - babies and ensure their own children are educated.

Girls recognise education as their way out of poverty, valuing scholastic achievements and opportunities. But beliefs based on ignorance and generational tradition result in girls being excluded from school when menstruating. With periods lasting up to fi ve days a month, catching up with missed lessons becomes impossible, so girls leave school. They are then considered marriageable, becoming mothers while still children themselves. This presents huge risks to both mother and child and locks the girls into a lifetime of grinding, inescapable poverty.

A simple, effective solution

It doesn't have to be like this! The worldwide lack of affordable feminine hygiene resources for those living in poverty has a very simple solution. Celeste knew that single-use sanitary towels required two things: disposable income and a safe, reliable means of disposal. As neither of these was remotely achievable, the solution had to be something affordable, washable, reusable and long-lasting: the DfG feminine hygiene kit was born.

DfG makes and distributes hygiene kits (which last three to four years) enabling girls to cope discreetly with their periods, and to fully participate in education.

The kit is now in its 28th stage of development and at every stage DfG evaluates the kits, asking the girls and women their preferences and making adjustments accordingly. An early example was that initially everything was white, like disposable products. But this only served to make the purpose of the products obvious: not desirable in a culture where anything to do with menstruation is regarded as unclean and forbidden. So now all kit items are brightly coloured to hide stains and look nothing like traditional sanitary products, drawing as little attention as possible.

Brightening girls' lives

Celeste witnessed the delight of girls in the orphanage receiving their kits. It meant they no longer needed to rely on desperate alternatives: leaves, grass, mattress stuffi ng, newspaper, sand, soil, stones and dried corn husks used as tampons, or dried cow dung (used for its absorbent qualities!), or exchanging sexual favours for sanitary towels…

Days for Girls throughout the world

DfG is administered worldwide by only nine paid personnel: everything else is undertaken by volunteers. Globally, the organisation has distributed kits to over 640,000 girls as well as providing education on sexual health, personal safety and avoidance of traffi ckers. Girls are reassured that they are not cursed, that this happens to women everywhere, and no periods means no people! Menstrual cups are also offered but often refused owing to cultural objections. There is a DfG University in Uganda, where women (paid for by a DfG team or chapter) learn kit-making and the skills necessary to start up a local enterprise. Using locally sourced materials, Enterprises provide kits for schoolgirls with local women purchasing Pods, the starter version of DfG kits containing the essential components for managing menstruation very cheaply. The aim for local enterprises is selfsuffi ciency, with kits for school girls still being ordered and paid for by sponsors.

Days for Girls UK

We have a fast-growing number of teams and solo-sewers in the UK. As well as overseeing all UK DfG activities, I have a local team comprised of members of our Wellspring prayer and bible study group plus others. These brilliant, generous women meet three times a month to sew, as well as putting in many hours at home producing kit items. We have people who cut out fabric, dye donated panties, attach snaps, make cloth bags, hand sew, assemble components to complete kits, as well as a treasurer and co-leader. Each team is self-funding so fundraising events such as coffee mornings and Christmas Fairs are essential. We have also received generous donations from national and local organisations.

It is very difficult to accurately estimate the cost of making a kit, but we think it's somewhere around £7.50 to £10. We are always looking for ways of obtaining kit components and materials cheaply, to make more kits for the same amount of money. For example, we have just ordered 500 metres of the breathable, waterproof fabric we use, from China, which should considerably reduce the cost. To date, we have supplied kits to girls and women around the world: South Sudan, Haiti, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Sierra Leone, DRC, Nepal as well as to various refugee camps.

'I couldn't go to school, and you gave me a DfG kit ...' (my paraphrasing).

 

Jane says: We can only supply kits to the extent to which people are willing to use their skills and give their time to create them. I am amazed to fi nd God using me in this way.

If you feel called to help and would like more information, please contact me on e: uk@daysforgirls.org.

More information about Days for Girls can be found on their web site w: www.daysforgirls.org

 

PHOTO © JANE WILLIAMSON