Educating Women, One Pad at a Time
Educating Women, One Pad at a Time
We all hate our periods. The cramps and headaches, grouchiness and mood swings--not to mention the possibility of an embarrassing stain on your favorite pair of shorts--are things that every girl can relate to, regardless of her culture and background. But aside from the occasional sick day, curled up in a warm bed with a heating pad, chocolate and Netflix, those of us in the developed world rarely consider our time of the month to be a barrier to our educations, our jobs or our futures. Few of us are even aware of how acutely what we consider to be a simple nuisance negatively impacts the lives of millions of young women across the globe.
As many as 10% of school-aged girls worldwide are unable to afford or access adequate sanitary products to deal with their menstrual cycles. Rather than risking ridicule or discomfort, especially in cultures where periods are viewed as shameful, sacred or private, these girls choose to stay home from school. As a result, they end up missing nearly 20% of their education, oftentimes falling impossibly behind, which leads to higher dropout, marriage and pregnancy rates and makes it even less likely that these young women will ever achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency.
Not only does this staggering statistic drastically impact the lives and futures of these girls, but having a lack of female education also greatly hinders the development of the emerging economies in which they reside. According to Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, in a speech addressing the importance of education for young girls, “No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, and improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.” Clearly, these struggling societies stand to benefit greatly from an improvement in female education, which is being held back by a very simple and completely solvable problem.
Since its inception in 2000, Lunapads International has been providing an answer. Based in Vancouver, Canada, the company sells comfortable, reusable and environmentally friendly cloth pads to women across the globe. A company that started as an environmental initiative aiming to reduce landfill waste from disposable pads and tampons has morphed into a major provider of necessary sanitary products to girls in the developing world.
Their “One4Her” program provides a set of reusable pads to a young woman in Uganda each time a Lunapads product is purchased, providing the set’s recipient with a safe, hygienic alternative to staying home from school. What’s more, the One4Her pads are produced through a company called AFRIpads in a factory based in rural Uganda--the factory is 90% staffed by village women, providing them with a sustainable, viable source of income and creating economic development and growth for the village economy.
I am fascinated and strongly moved by the Lunapads business model. Through the sale of a simple, relatively inexpensive product, this social impact corporation is combatting three pressing social issues that dominate today’s world. They have a powerful impact on the environmental issue of human waste, eliminating two million disposable tampons and pads from landfills every month. They provide continued support for a productive enterprise that has a major economic impact on an impoverished village and its female inhabitants. And they are attempting to tackle the crucial problem of undereducated women in the developing world in an unconventional but highly significant way.
The road to universal female education, literacy and employment starts here. All of the textbook donations and teaching volunteers in the world won’t make a difference if young women can’t make it to 20% of classes each month. The first step to improving the quality of life for women in the developing world is by having an open dialogue about an issue that in many cultures is considered embarrassing, shameful and taboo, as well as supporting a sustainable and innovative solution to the problem, such as One4Her. Through the efforts of girls in developed nations supporting their sisters across the globe, the world can become more informed not only about the inability of a large proportion of the population to access necessary products, but also about the importance of educating women--one pad at a time.
Abby is a sophomore at NYU’s Stern School of Business studying finance and accounting with a minor in politics. She is fascinated by everything from rap music to tech startups, with a special interest in world events and how they affect the global economy and political landscape, and is always happiest when she is trying or learning something new.