Breaking taboos, period
While sewing shield liners, Susan McKenna joins a team of over two dozen women as they make and prepare 200 menstruation kits for young women in third-world countries. The Days for Girls group is part of a larger effort (over 800 teams worldwide) who are fighting the social taboos surrounding menstruation while helping to support and educate young women. Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network
Education is the first rung on the ladder when climbing out of the well of poverty.
Yet in developing countries, the simple biological act of becoming a woman halves their chances for self-improvement.
In India, one in four girls drops out of school once they start menstruating. In fact, 70% of Indian girls didn’t know what menstruation was before they got their first period.
A group of women in Barrie are working together of offer young women hope.
As members of the relatively new international Days for Girls organization, Barrie’s Ann Cavanaugh and Diana Catton are leading volunteers at St. Mary’s Church to create kits for girls ages 11 and up.
“We’ve got to bust the myth that we don’t even talk about this,” said Cavanaugh. “I mentioned this event to another woman and as soon as I said the word ‘period’, she walked away. It’s crazy.”
Around the world, girls and women who can't access sanitary napkins use rags, mattress stuffing, banana leaves, feathers and cow dung to manage their menstruation.
Many of the girls have never worn underwear, so privately managing their menses is out of the question.
“These girls are ostracized for a week, so they leave school and many of them never return,” Cavanaugh said.
Women menstruate for approximately 60 days or two full months each year.
The Days for Girls kits last two-to-four years, which allows young girls to attend another 240 days of school.
In the large gymnasium at St. Mary’s parish, more than two dozen women split into small groups to handle the creation of washable flannel sanitary pads and the cotton fabric bags to carry them.
Strips of flannel were cut to an exact template measurement, sewn into shape, joined with a liner and tested to ensure a polyurethane laminate or PUL guard could be fitted into the liner.
The liners are matched with underwear and facecloths that Cavanaugh dyed a darker colour to hide stains. Cloth bags being sewn at another table, and Ziplock bags and small bars of soap were being sorted at another station.
Over the hum of a dozen sewing machines, serger sewing machines and fabric cutting stations, Catton said she expected their 200 kits to be sent to Africa and Ecuador.
“It’s wherever our missionaries are going. They’ll bring the kits and train the teachers how to use them, so they can teach the girls in their school,” she said.
After distribution of the Days for Girls kits, school absence rates dropped from 25% to 3% in Kenya, from 36% to 8% in Uganda and even Queens in New York City saw a 2.9% increase.
Since its inception three years ago, Days for Girls, a non-profit organization has created chapters and teams of volunteers across the globe.
So far, they’ve sewn more than 100,000 kits and distributed them in more than 75 countries.
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