An international program, Days for Girls, was explained to members of the Weyburn Rotary Club on Thursday, as the club has supported the program with a $1,000 donation.
The program provides pads, shields and menstrual education to girls and women in countries where these items are not available or accessible, explained Brenda Banbury in the Zoom meeting.
Banbury is a member of the Saskatoon South Rotary Club, and is also the main organizer of the program in that city, getting volunteers together to make the materials and to ship it out to countries where they are needed.
“It’s about menstrual hygiene, health and social change,” explained Banbury.
This program came into being in 2008, after it was discovered that many girls were missing school due to getting their periods, and having no way to deal with it. In many instances, school officials or aid agencies supposed that it was due to the girls having to haul water or fire wood for their homes from long distances.
“Once they started menstruating, they have no way to manage their periods. They drop out of school, and once they drop out of school in those countries, your future is poverty going forward,” said Banbury, pointing out these kits are also for use by women who face the same situation of not being able to manage their periods.
In Kenya, for example, statistics have found that 65 per cent of women do not have affordable access to pads, “and some of these girls depend upon a string of sexual partners who then pay or buy the girls menstrual products. That’s a really horrible future.”
In India, fewer than 20 per cent of girls use menstrual pads, “so again the challenge is they drop out of school and the cycle of poverty continues,” said Banbury.
The kits are made to last for three years, and are comprised of shields, pads, panties, soap and a cloth, all to assist in washing and cleaning up. Banbury pointed out that part of the stigma in some countries is that girls shouldn’t wash or clean when they have their periods.
For the group, Days for Girls, a mandatory part of distributing the kits is providing menstrual hygiene education.
“So many girls do not understand what their period is and what it means. We’re educating 12, 13 and 14-year-old girls about what is happening with their bodies, and in some areas we reach out to the boys too so they know what’s going on. Then we can change the attitude in the community and get rid of the stigma there is to menstruation,” said Banbury, adding there is also an environmental benefit to their program.
She pointed out that in some of these countries, they have no way to deal with disposable menstruation products, and these kits are easily washed and dried, and can continue to be reused for up to three years.
There are over 700 volunteer chapters of Days for Girls around the world, most of them in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Prior to the pandemic, Banbury went to Uganda for a series of clinics, and recalled one in a village with over 100 girls in attendance. Some of them had to walk three hours just to get there.
Due to a lack of space, they had to talk to the girls to find out how old they were and whether they were menstruating yet, so they could get the kits to the girls who needed them right away.
At another distribution point, a remote village in the mountains of Peru, Banbury noted there were grown, mature women with children who did not know the facts presented in the education talks.
“One of the women said, ‘I don’t know why you weren’t here 10 years ago, then I could’ve had two children instead of 12’,” said Banbury.
Another aspect to Days for Girls is that they encourage local chapters in the recipient countries to establish their own centres and social enterprise groups, so they are making and distributing kits in their own communities.
They also partner with other aid groups, such as World Vision, and their newest partners, Save The Children.
Her Saskatoon group started up in 2014, and since then have distributed 5,500 kits, with another 500 to be packaged up and sent out in mid-May.
Weyburn used to have a local group for Days for Girls, but the materials collected for that have since gone to a sewer in Grenfell where there is a local chapter. Banbury estimates her group uses about 50 bolts of flannel a year to make the kits, with each kit worth around $10-15.