In Rwanda, Harvard Business School Fellow Elizabeth Scharpf is breaking menstrual silence and challenging female poverty with the Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) program. SHE helps local women in developing countries “jump-start their own businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable, quality, and eco-friendly sanitary pads.” This truly innovative program combines microloans with the use of local raw materials (instead of imported materials) to ensure affordability and accessibility.

In our previous post on this topic, Chris theorized, not unreasonably, that cramps and menstrual silence play at least as big a role as lack of menstrual products in keeping girls out of school in developing nations.

Both factors are likely at play, to varying degrees depending on the locale. The Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) recently reported that in Uganda, lack of menstrual supplies coupled with inadequate latrine facilities for girls seriously impacts the education of girls ages 11-13.

Despite tax waivers introduced to reduce the cost of sanitary pads, finding money to buy them each month is a challenge for many grown women, never mind pre-teen girls.

A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda – for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household. Girls whose parents can’t afford to give them the money improvise with strips of toilet paper or old cloth.   [. . . .]

As Chris suggested in her post, the solution is about communication as much as it is about resources; FAWE found this to be true among the girls they studied in Uganda. The silences and taboos around menstruation make it difficult for girls to ask their parents for money to buy pads. FAWE has launched a campaign to de-stigmatise menstruation through educating girls. They’ve started a “girl education movement”, organizing clubs in schools, and teaching girls that menstruation is is a normal occurrence, nothing to be scared of or ashamed of.

You can’t ask for help if you can’t talk about it.

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