Menstrual hygiene kits help free women to study, work
As fair trade provides more families with income to send their children to school, the Conscious Connections Foundation (CCF), created by founders of Ganesh Himal Trading Co., finds that more than money inhibits education for girls in Nepal.
In some communities, girls and women do not have access to menstrual hygiene pads, so they cannot go to school and work four to five days a month, said Denise Attwood, co-owner and co-founder of Ganesh Himal with her husband Ric Conner.
So Conscious Connections has begun educating girls on menstruation and providing eco-friendly, reusable menstrual hygiene kits.
"We offer a culturally appropriate comic book written in Nepali about menstruation and menstrual hygiene," said Denise. "In a fun way, it helps girls understand changes to their bodies, eating healthful foods, keeping clean and how babies are made."
"CCF also wanted to provide the kits to girls and give employment to some marginalized women, so we started a project employing four women to sew menstrual hygiene kits in Kathmandu," she said.
In March 2017, CCF received a grant to buy four sewing machines and fabric. The first 150 kits went for the Power of 5 to distribute to girls in CCF's educational program.
Women in the Kathmandu project make kits with a polyurethane fabric shield sewn between layers of cotton flannel to prevent blood from leaking. Women put it in a holder in their underwear.
Each kit includes three pads that can be washed, hung out to dry and reused. They last about three years, and give women and girls confidence to go out in public.
"It's a step up from rags, which many currently use. We found women glad to use them," said Denise, who has used them herself.
CCF began the sewing project with a grant of $1,800 from a couple in Spokane.
The Nepali women who make the kits sell them to CCF and others, and purchase more fabric to make new ones to sell.
When she and Ric were in Nepal last fall, they delivered 50 kits to girls in village schools to see their response. Along with providing the kits, CCF knows education is important because of religious and cultural taboos creating misunderstandings.
"Women and men need to understand that menstruation is normal, not something to be ashamed of, and that women still can go to school and work," Denise said.
To provide menstrual hygiene education, CCF contacted the Radha Paudel Foundation in Nepal. It has reached out to train girls and women in Western Nepal, where many still stay in menstruation huts, away from their families, as if they are untouchable or unclean while menstruating.
"Girls and women have died in the huts, because they are exposed to the elements, bitten by bugs or snakes, and no one will help them," Denise said.
Kesang Yudron, who is in her 30s, is CCF's organizer for this program.
"We have known her since 1984 when we started to work with her parents as partners with Ganesh Himal. Her parents sent their daughters to schools in India, and they had scholarships to study in the United States," Denise said.
Kesang returned to Nepal and created her own fair-trade business in Southern Nepal with women who had been abused, trafficked and had no families. Seeing how menstruation is a barrier to women there, she began volunteering with CCF to teach about menstrual hygiene. She organized CCF's menstrual hygiene workshop in Kathmandu and brought five women leaders from her group in Southern Nepal.
In early September, CCF sponsored 26 women and a man from different ethnic groups in urban and rural communities throughout Nepal for an intensive three-day training. The training covered gender inequality and discrimination, a woman's reproductive physiology, menstrual hygiene and management, taboos and myths in the Nepali society, religious beliefs and laws on women rights.
"A young woman who is an export manager with the Association of Craft Producers (ACP) was surprised to learn that it takes 200 years for sanitary pads—available in urban areas—to decompose. She now uses reusable pads," Denise said.
Kesang and CCF recruited people they saw as leaders in their communities, and the Radha Paudel Foundation led Menstrual Hygiene Management Training at the Association for Craft Producers facility in Kathmandu. Trainers are certified to train in their villages and have access to culturally appropriate materials to train women, girls, men and boys in their communities. When they do trainings, CCF purchases the menstrual kits to distribute to those who attend.
Three months after trainings, trainers contact participants to see how the kits worked, if they used them and if they suggest changes.
One community sent trainers from their mountain village near the Tibetan border, a two-day walk to the nearest road. They have instructed more than 150 women and girls, and distributed 168 kits.
"CFF is raising funds to provide kits and do training in more communities many times a year," said Denise.
One woman who came to the training is a certified medical assistant who walks two days to check pregnant women in her region. She hopes to reach more people in the remote area.
Kesang plans to create three-minute videos on questions women have about their bodies. Many villages in remote areas have good internet access and use cell phones. Women can call and see the videos without going to an urban area.
"CCF seeks to raise $3,000 to train another 30 women leaders ($100 each)," she said, adding that the Spokane couple who helped start the project sent another $1,500. "With kits costing $7 each, CCF can provide jobs and 400 kits with $2,800 in donations."
To help with the effort, the CCF's Power of 5 has raised funds to hire an administrative assistant to work with the Association of Craft Producers.
The Power of 5 raises $25,000 a year for K-10 education for 120 children. With half, they offer scholarships and the other half goes into an endowment to expand the program in future years.
To raise funds in the last two years, CCF has had five teams run in Bloomsday. In 2018, they raised $18,000, including a $10,000 memorial. Some doing virtual runs raised another $3,700.
CCF has also expanded the Joy Attwood College Fund to assist three girls to attend 11th and 12th grades in the Kathmandu area, sharing $2,000.
CCF has worked with Spokane Rotary Clubs to raise funds to rebuild a K-3 school in Ghatbesi, Nepal, which was destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, support primary school teachers and fund college scholarships for 20 rural girls in that area.
"People involved with CCF give more money as they know of the progress," Denise said.
Some fair trade retail stores raise funds for the menstrual project by selling little doll ornaments to hang as tree or desk decorations.
"People are interested in being engaged in helping women if they are given a fun, creative outlet," Denise said.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2018