Gender inequality- The unfortunate reality for developing communities.

 

When people say “we’ve already beaten gender inequality” this list of gender issues immediately comes to mind…

Domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, lack of access to education, arranged marriage, anti-abortion laws, rape culture, media sexualisation, gender roles, the glass ceiling, parental leave policies, sex trafficking, under representation in politics, breastfeeding in public, sexual harassment, women in sport, women in tech, body image, restricted freedom, honor killings.

An uncomfortable list, yet we clearly need to start somewhere. For many women in sub-Saharan Africa, the reality is that they must overcome barriers to education before they can aim for equality in other important realms. Nelson Mandela wishfully philosophised that

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

But globally, 65 million girls are not in school (Unicef 2013). So something has to change. We need people in communities to help break down the barriers preventing girls from the opportunity of education.

Menstruation prevents many girls from attending school. A girl who misses school due to menstruation for four days each month loses 156 learning days throughout four years of high school. Health advancements to support girls with menstruation could give them back 24 weeks of education. This would give them a more equal chance at education as their male peers.

Petal pads

‘Petal’ is one of three enterprises in the WSV portfolio. The micro-enterprise trains small groups of local people to become entrepreneurs and empower themselves and their communities by running a Petal franchise where they supply their communities with re-usable sanitary towels. As well as this, they educate their community on menstruation for free, as ‘87% of girls are completely unaware about menstruation and have no knowledge regarding its purpose as a biological process.’ (Unicef, 2012). This education breaks down the stigma and barriers that menstruation has historically caused for girls across the world.

When we provide a solution to one problem, such as menstruation stigma, we often provide solutions to multiple other gender issues. In the case of ‘Petal’, local women, and where possible men, are included in the process and are empowered to start a business together. This may address traditional gender roles in their communities, putting women on a more equal footing with the men. Furthermore, breaking down the stigma surrounding menstruation by educating the community will benefit not only school aged girls. It will benefit adult women too; freeing them from judgement and potential discrimination.

We are still a long way from achieving real gender equality. But the good news is that social enterprise ‘Petal’ is effective and ready to be franchised out to charities.

It’s about time we started talking about periods

Imagine if, for five days every month you were banished from your house and forced to go and live in a shed. You weren’t allowed to enter your house, touch another person and you even felt ashamed to attend school. It sounds barbaric doesn’t it?

Every month young girls and women all over the world are forced to separate themselves and some, live in inhumane conditions, just because they are menstruating. Cultural beliefs, poverty and social factors often prevent women from having equal, and fair treatment during their period. In certain countries periods are a taboo subject and women are often seen as dirty, diseased and unfit to carry out certain tasks. In some countries in Africa people even see menstruation as a curse! All of these social stigmas have a massive effect on the livelihoods, education and confidence of these women.

school-1007067_960_720Nina from Nepal has struggled with social restrictions surrounding her period and at just 14 years old, she is banished from her house and forced to live in a shed during her period. Nina’s family practices chhaupadi, a Nepalese tradition promoting these unhealthy values. The tradition believes; when girls are menstruating, they bring bad luck and disease into the house. They are unclean. For years during their periods Nina and her mother have been forced to live in squalid conditions and this has often led to sickness and depression.

Social factors are only part of the problem. For some women, living in poor communities across the world, sanitary products are often expensive and hard to source. Instead of using hygienic methods, some have to resort to using pieces of cut up cloth or leaves to manage their menstruation. These methods are unclean and unreliable, leading to sickness and girls being embarrassed to attend school. According to the Girl Effect, 30% of girls living in Nepal skip school during their period. This is simply, not ok.

Enactus Southampton have created a sustainable solution to help eradicate some of these issues. ‘Petal’ (formerly SanEco Pads), are a new collection of reusable sanitary towels. The pads will enable women to regain their lives during menstruation and the discrete protection will help girls and women to feel more confident about dealing with their period in a hygienic way. We aim for girls to feel more assured about attending school and happy to carry out their day-to-day lives, knowing they have full protection. The enterprises are run by, and for people in communities making this a truly sustainable solution. The pads are designed to last for years and are less than 10% the price of alternative conventional pads.

Alongside the reusable sanitary pads Petal entrepreneurs also provide free education to women and where possible, men in the hope to educate communities about menstrual hygiene and remove any social stigmas surrounding menstruation.

pads widescrean

It’s crazy to think that we still tackling these issues in 2016, but period stigma still exists! Although girls are now able to access more of the resources they need, there’s no doubt we have a long way to go until everyone has access to clean menstrual sanitation. Education is helping rid the social problems surrounding periods, and during their periods girls are feeling more valued and respected than ever before. There are however numerous countries women are still treated differently on their periods.

Lets spread the word and together end period problems!

 

By Emma Taylor