Bleeding in Africa

For the past two years, many individuals and organizations have contacted GladRags regarding a largely publicized issue afflicting many communities in sub-Saharan Africa.  For many reasons, young girls are unable to and do not want to attend school during the days they are menstruating.  These days can add up to a 10-20 percent absenteeism rate throughout a school year (http://allafrica.com/stories/200710120286.html).  Clearly, this absenteeism leads to missing a great amount of information being taught and is generally disruptive to a girl's scholastic experience.

The many reasons that girls face this obstacle include lack of sanitized water, restroom facilities, underwear, and, the missing product for which GladRags is contacted, menstrual pads.  Also, the topic of menstruation is often taboo in many of these cultures, which makes it difficult for girls to openly arrive at a community solution to this life condition.  Another important obstacle that many news outlets and western organizations fail to consider when contemplating this issue is an absence of a waste disposal system to deal with the disposable pads that have been proposed as a solution and what the creation of such a system would mean.

So, given these many hurdles to overcome, what is the answer?

GladRags has always seen the solution as more complicated than, "get those girls some pads!".  In order for pads to work, these communities also need all of the other missing pieces with the exception of, if the pads are cloth, the waste disposal system.  P&G brands Always and Tampax recognize the complexity of a possible solution as well, thus they have launched their Protecting Futures campaign, www.protectingfutures.com.  This effort unites with HERO and the United Nations Association of the United States of America to bring girls in sub-Saharan Africa not only pads, but also schools outfitted with wash facilities and water from a pipeline that the effort plans to build.

This campaign is quite comprehensive and, in many ways, commendable.  It might raise the attendance of those absentee girls and yield some very functional school facilities.  Something to consider is the campaign's long-term impact.

What is happening here, in essence, is an exportation of the culture of over-consumption of the Western and "developed" nations.  A generous and helpful solution on the part of P&G does not take into account that the disposal of countless pads and tampons and that sort of disposal driven culture will just create in Africa the waste issues that the US and many other nations have to deal with.  Did you know, for example, that Japan has to export a good amount of their waste because they have no place to put it all?  Washington State is the lucky recipient of a portion of this.

When people have contacted GladRags for cloth pad donations, we have often felt that our hands are tied in making any sort of impact in certain African communities even with such a donation.  This is because of the lack of restroom facilities, underwear and the social taboo of menstruation.  The solution that P&G has to offer comprehensively addresses these concerns.  Unfortunately, it is in order to make using disposable pads a workable answer.

We do not believe that disposable products are ever an answer because they are not a long-term, sustainable solution.  What a shame that the mistake that certain cultures have made in making disposable pads the most prominent way of dealing with menstruation is now being spread to places where such a mistake has not yet been made.

The hurdle that GladRags and other cloth pads proponents have to face is not just to get cloth pads or at least the idea of cloth pads to sub-Saharan Africa, but also to convince the concerned charity and business organizations that cloth is the most sustainable solution.  How can this be done when cloth pads are not used by most of the women of the US?  Many United Statesians would probably think the proposal of such a solution for sub-Saharan Africa an insult to these African girls.

Such an international concern so interestingly highlights the importance of the work that GladRags is doing and the dire consequences that could result if more women do not adopt a more sustainable approach to menstruation.  Every time a customer uses her GladRags, Keeper Cup, Moon Cup or Sea Sponge Tampon and tells another woman about these products, she is helping to change the mentality of a disposal driven culture and that is an admirable way to live.  Hopefully, such a presence of innovative living will reach further and further, creating a better future for other communities as well.

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