Sanitary care for women around the world and in the UK is letting us down. Girls are skipping school due to embarrassment at not being able to afford the right materials to care for themselves, and women in third world countries are left with nothing to maintain their dignity during that time of the month. We spoke to Leeds based charity Freedom 4 Girls about how they aim to change this, and how we can help.
Periods. Tampons. Sanitary Towels. Monthly bleed. Feeling uncomfortable reading those words? Well, half the world’s population have to deal with these words every month. Part of our monthly routine and spend relies on purchasing these boring products to simply maintain our dignity and cleanliness as we deal with this annoying biological inconvenience.
But just imagine that when that time of the month comes around, you can’t afford what you need. You either eat that day, or you don’t. Imagine having no facilities or means at all to deal with your period. That is the reality facing young women around the world today in 2017, as new reports state that ‘young girls are forced to use tissue paper, or skip school entirely to avoid embarrassment’, and 150 million women in the world do not have access to safe sanitary protection.
Shocking statistics aside, there are people doing something about this issue. We were lucky enough to speak to Freedom 4 Girls, a Leeds based charity who aim to raise awareness and money to tackle the problems surrounding female sanitary care. Read our interview below, and please, please – donate what you can to this worthy cause.
Can you describe what Freedom 4 Girls aims to do?
Freedom4Girls aims to provide safe sanitary protection for the over 300 million women around the world who do not have access. As seen in the recent UK issue it is not just a problem that affects women in developing countries, but also a problem in developed countries such as the UK. Our main focus is girls and women in Kenya, who often have to resort to very unhygienic methods of protection when they are on their period, and miss 5 days of school a month.
Was there a single incident that sparked you to create Freedom 4 Girls?
The UK campaign was formed when I found out that this was an issue facing UK women close to me. The UK statistics on people accessing Foodbanks which is linked to poverty show that if you cannot afford food, you can’t afford sanitary products, a stat not many people know. I joined a UK based charity that has been operating for 17 years called Maji Safi Projects, that build schools and sponsor children through education. I volunteered in Kenya, and then wanted to start my own project so Freedom 4 Girls was born.
What can £6 provide a woman in need?
For just £6, you can provide a woman in need a sanitary pack that can last them 6 years. These are reusable, and consist of 2 waterproof shields with wings, 10 liners, a ziplock bag to hold the soiled liners in a bag, 2 pairs of pants and washing instructions, and also a calendar to track menstruation each month so they’re not caught out. In the UK we will be campaigning for more choice, so will be teaming up with a moon cup manufacturer to help educate and supply to women and girls.
Have you met the young women this affects? How big a change does this make to their life?
You must remember that in Kenya, 60% of women do not have access to safe sanitary protection, and use awful things like ash, dung, corn husks, leaves, rags, bits out of their mattresses, anything to help. They miss up to a week in education every month, some even dropping out of school altogether. Poverty is high in Kenya and education is key. We are giving girls their dignity back each month trying to remove the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation. Most children in Kenya don’t get past primary school, so it’s key to allow these women the education they deserve, and not holding them back due to their periods. It’s vital that this change comes about NOW, allowing them to return to the lives they deserve.
Explain the process after donation, and how you help the women in need?
Well, since October 2016 we have raised money to supply 1200 girls with washable, reusable sanitary pads and educated over 2000 girls and boys around the issue. With the help of 5 Leeds University Intercultural ambassadors we set up sewing workshops for a few months from Dec16-March17. In Kenya, we have supplied 7 schools and a girl guide troop with the necessities they need. As you can imagine, the impact has been huge, with so many girls not having to worry about leakage or not going to school at all and and loosing up to 5 days of education each month, and girls skipping school dropped considerably from last month (24% to 3%!)
This is not a topic affecting third world countries only, there are young women in the UK who are skipping school due to embarrassment at not being able to afford sanitary towels and tampons. What can the government do to change this?
The political agenda is for the politicians to decide, and until we have the research and more awareness we cannot change their focus points, unfortunately. But, all we aim to do is make people aware of this issue, and make sure women around the world are not going a day of sanitary protection.
What policies are you urging the government to change, or alter to help young women everywhere?
This is a call to action to help women worldwide, it stems across culture, religion, countries as half the population understand and can relate to this dilemma. We need to stop the stigma and taboo and make the subject of periods spoken about as freely as we discuss the weather. We must put a call to research in the UK to show how many women this affects right here, and why women aren’t aware of all the choices they have. We are also hoping to work with Foodbanks around the country to stock sanitary products for women everywhere.
How can schools help?
As stated, it’s all about the rights to an education and teaching everyone about the issues out there. Boys need to be educated just as much as girls, and hopefully that will start teaching the next generation the importance of this issue.
What can I do right now to make a change?
To help, you can set up a donation station literally anywhere in the the UK to help girls and women. We are hoping to set up donation stations all over the UK, and place them in supermarkets and can be donated to directly. Also, donate £6 on our GoFundMe page and help women in Kenya have the right to dignity and safe sanitary protection during their time of the month.