Making Menstrual Pads Makes Way for Girls’ Education

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Jacqueline inspects colourful squares of fabric assembled on a wooden table. She selects a piece of pale blue along with thread, sewing needles, and scissors. She has what she needs to stitch together a reusable menstrual pad – a small item that will have a big impact on her life.

In Tanzania’s Nduta Refugee Camp, where Jacqueline lives, menstrual pads are hard to come by. Supplies are limited, and when products are available, they are often unaffordable. Because of period stigma, many girls and young women feel embarrassed speaking about the products they need.

Without access to pads, Jacqueline would skip school during menstruation, fearing leaks and feelings of shame about being seen as unclean. Some estimates say that girls who do not have access to pads miss an average of 30 to 40 school days per year.

Right To Play’s My Education, My Future program funded by Global Affairs Canada aims to strengthen access to education for children, like Jacqueline, who are experiencing displacement. Part of that means dismantling barriers rooted in gender inequality that create challenges for girls and young women. By promoting girls’ reproductive health rights, destigmatizing menstruation, and improving access to period products, the program helps make sure periods and traditional gender roles don't come between girls and their right to a quality education.

“Now, even if I am at school [when my period starts], I take it as normal [...] since you know how the body is working, you are not afraid.”

Right To Play-trained teachers bust period taboos and promote menstrual health at WASH Clubs, which have been set up at three schools across the settlement.

Jacqueline’s teacher Yvette runs the Club at her school. Since joining, Jacqueline has a better understanding about what happens during a menstrual cycle. She has a safe space to talk about her right to make decisions about her body and future. She’s even learning to sew her own menstrual pads using local materials – a skill the young women will share with their sisters, mothers, and friends.

Yvette, a Right To Play-trained teacher, runs a WASH Club that teaches girls how to make their own menstrual pads so they can fully participate in the classroom.

Equipped with information and supplies, Jacqueline feels like a burden has been lifted. “Since they started giving us materials and training, I am more comfortable,” she says. “Now, even if I am at school [when my period starts], I take it as normal. Because even if it happens, since you know how the body is working, you are not afraid.”

Jacqueline is one of 45 WASH Club members who are speaking up to normalize periods. Speaking openly about menstrual health is one reason that 67% of girls in the communities where we work in Tanzania feel empowered to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, compared to 4% at the beginning of the project.

Girls are more focused and comfortable in the classroom during menstruation. But that’s not all. They’re gaining the skills and confidence to decide what happens with their bodies, relationships, and futures, and taking big steps toward equal participation in school and in life.

These activities are part of My Education, My Future, a program that aims to improve access to and the quality of education for primary school-aged children, especially girls, affected by the Burundian refugee crisis. The program has been active in Tanzania and Burundi since 2020. It is made possible in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council and with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

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