Posted on March 15, 2019
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UK government pledge to end period poverty worldwide by 2030
Ahead of International Women’s Day celebrated on Friday 8th March, Penny Mordaunt (Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities), announced on Monday 4th March a new UK government campaign to end period poverty globally by 2030.
This was good news for thousands of individuals, charities and vocal activists who have campaigned vigorously for action on this issue. This news has been a long-time coming. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the clamour to highlight period poverty globally began, but in the UK it started to gain traction when British schoolgirl, Amika George, began the “Free Periods” movement back in 2017. She was just 17 years old when she read a BBC report detailing the extent of period poverty in the UK. Amika was incensed but motivated to bring about change for the 10 percent of school girls her across the UK, who missed school regularly during their menstrual period, because they could not afford the cost of sanitary products. Amika’s campaign, #FreePeriods, went viral and garnered support from among others, The Pink Protest, an online activist community and Red Box Project, a national non-profit organisation, which delivers free sanitary items to schools in communities. The outcry for change finally prompted action from the UK government in the form of a £2 million campaign to end period poverty worldwide.
Period poverty is the inability of less privileged girls to access sanitary products, an essential health requirement during menstruation for women, who make up half of the world’s population. According to Plan International (UK), 1 in 10 girls in the UK cannot afford to buy menstrual products. Free Periods believe that nearly 138,000 girls skip school during menstruation. It is hardly surprising that these are girls from families that are living on the poverty line, with little choice but to sacrifice menstrual sanitary products in favour of other essential needs like food and clothing.
Challenge for girls in Africa
If period poverty is a major issue in the UK, a country of relative wealth, imagine then the challenge for girls living in less developed countries particularly in poor rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa where the problem of period poverty is endemic. Millions of girls face embarrassment and discomfort during menstruation, affecting their ability to go to school with huge implications for their education. In the absence of sanitary pads, they bleed through their school uniforms and resort to using rags or torn pieces of cloth picked up from rubbish heaps to soak up the blood flow. The consequence is that many girls in Africa run high risk of disease and infection. It is estimated that 9 million girls in Africa aged 10-18 years miss about a quarter of school academic year due to lack of menstrual provisions.
ACT Ulemu Project is addressing “Period Poverty”?
It’s going on to six year since ACT began to tackle the issue of period poverty in the eight countries where we work in Africa. In 2014 we started a project to investigate the high dropout rate of girls from education in Malawi, from as early as primary school. Our research led us to conclude, among others, that period poverty was a major part of this problem. This led us to set up the Ulemu Project. Ulemu in the Chichewa language means ‘dignity’. The project is about granting girls the dignity they deserve. We do this through our ‘Girl Shower’ workshops where they receive menstrual health education and learn life skills. Each child also receives a “Blessing pack” which contains panties, a set of re-useable sanitary pads, roll-on deodorant, pen and a handmade bookmark. Community engagement is central to the sustainability of this project, which makes it unique. The project incorporates income generation for women in the community. Known as “Mother group”, they are provided with sewing machines and tailoring tools and trained to make reusable sanitary pads and panties, which are included in the “Blessing pack” and distributed to the girls after attending the Girl Shower workshop through their school. The women generate income from sales of excess reusable pads and other items they produce. To-date more than 2,000 school girls and 1000 women in Southern region of Malawi have benefitted from the Project.
Amika George’s response to the article she read led her to take action and do something about Period Poverty in the UK. In Africa the problem is worse and many school girls are being adversely impacted. You can read more about our Ulemu Project in an article published in the Voice Newspaper. Click here.
But you can help. Through our Ulemu Project Appeal, you can make a difference.
With just £10, we can provide 2 school girls in Africa with a ‘Blessing Pack’ and keep widows employed to produce reusable sanitary pads and generate income to support their families. Please share this article with your contacts.
If you would like to donate to our Ulemu Project Appeal, please click here. Thank you.