One of the greatest strides in global development in recent years has been a focus on opening the doors of education, work, and leadership to girls and women, particularly in developing countries. While much progress has been made, fundamental barriers still exist that prevent some girls from reaching their fullest potential.
All over the globe, girls still approach puberty without the knowledge, tools, and support they need to grow up feeling confident. Many girls, irrespective of country and culture, experience a loss of self-esteem and personal strength with the onset of menstruation. They often hit their lowest point in confidence when they get their period, because it can be a scary, confusing, and sometimes profoundly disabling experience.
“One of the reasons why menstruation is a barrier to girls' education globally is because of the shame and stigma that still surrounds periods. Girls can be embarrassed to attend school during their period for fear of being teased, or because other people’s apprehension has prevented them from getting the education they need to understand what’s going to happen to them and how to cope with it. In very extreme cases, in countries like Nepal, there's an illegal yet still widespread practice of separating girls from their community during [this time], which, of course, means that they're unable to go to school or participate in the community life”, says Charlotte Le Flufy, Always’ Social Impact Program Leader at P&G.
To make matters worse, many girls don't have access to the products they need to manage their periods. This lack of access to period products is often referred to as ‘period poverty’ and there is low awareness of its global prevalence. It can lead to missing school, confidence-building activities, and other developmental experiences. This can limit a girl’s potential and opportunities far beyond puberty. In Turkey, Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom, nearly one in ten girls have missed school because they didn’t have access to proper hygienic period products. In the U.S., it’s one in five.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) programs that help girls and women manage their periods with confidence are creating truly revolutionary change. The most effective MHM programs aim to transform cultural attitudes as well as break down barriers for girls in the most practical ways, through education and supplying menstrual products. These programs offer holistic support not only for women and girls but also for their communities, offering information about puberty and the onset of periods and even educating men and boys about how natural this is.
One of these programs is the Always Keeping Girls in School Program in South Africa which has been running for more than 10 years and has helped girls like Amelia focus on their education. See her story below.
Another great example of a successful MHM program is Always', Whisper's and Orkid’s Puberty and Confidence Education Program. For over 35 years, this program has been leading the way in supporting girls through this key stage of life. It now reaches over 18 million girls in more than 70 countries every year, offering the kind of life-skills and confidence education that increases girls’ knowledge, influence, and voice.
The results have been dramatic. Recent research in Kenya revealed that 92% of girls who participated in the Always program agreed that their self-confidence increased because of what they had learned about menstrual protection and their bodies. Grace, a participant, said, “Our mentors taught us we are starting to become a woman and you should be brave and you should not be shy or ashamed of yourself.”
Always has also made tackling period poverty a major priority. They provide pads to girls in need through their puberty education school program, their global humanitarian efforts, and through the more recent Always #EndPeriodPoverty campaigns.
According to Georgia Harris, Youth Services Center Coordinator in a Kentucky school who benefited from the Always #EndPeriodPoverty donation campaign, “Girls exhibit confidence when they are in control of meeting their own needs. There is enough pressure from poverty and peers without worrying about ways to meet hygiene issues. What may seem small has the potential to make a huge impact.”
To see the positive impact access to period products can have on a girl’s life, hear Emily’s firsthand experience with period poverty in the US. See her story below.
Through these donation programs, Always has provided over 200 million products to girls all around the world. With help from organizations like Feeding America, the Red Box Project, and China Youth Development Foundation, among others, they’re helping ensure that girls have access to the product they need to be able to attend school and stay confident during their periods.
These efforts have a demonstrable compounding effect on addressing poverty as girls can focus on getting an education. According to the World Bank, for every extra year of primary education beyond the mean, a girl’s eventual wage rate increases an average of 10-20%; and an increase of just 1% in the share of women with secondary education can increase a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by 0.3 percent.
“Girls' education is one of the best investments you can make,” says Le Flufy, “When you help a girl get an education, you not only help her, you also help her family and her community, and you actually you help the whole country lift itself out of poverty. You see this huge multiplier effect with improvements not only on an economic level but also in terms of society, health, and political stability. When you educate a girl, you improve her self-worth and her ability to advocate for her needs within her family and her community, so she's less likely to experience child marriage. She's less likely to experience teen pregnancy. She's more likely to participate in the formal economy.”
Everyone all over the world can help support women and girls through menstrual health management education, advocacy, and donations. During the month of September in the US, you can join the Always #EndPeriodPoverty efforts by raising awareness of the issue, joining the conversation, and purchasing Always at participating retailers to trigger a product donation that keeps girls in school.
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