Keeping Colombian Girls in School Starts with Ending Period Shaming

| May 24, 2018

One in ten girls around the world do not have access to sanitary products when they menstruate, often preventing them from going to school for up to a week every month. Even here in Canada, 33% of women (under 25) have struggled to afford menstrual products for themselves or their dependents.

When girls miss this amount of school it puts them at risk of dropping out altogether, which reduces their future employment opportunities and leaves them vulnerable to child marriage and early pregnancy.

Plan International has partnered with social enterprise Be Girl to break the taboo of menstruation among adolescent girls and boys and improve access to feminine hygiene products that enable girls to better manage their menstrual cycle.

“Menstruation is a real problem for many girls in the world because of the high cost of sanitary towels. Because of this, when they are on “their days”, they do not go to school,” explains Be Girl co-founder Diana Sierra.

A series of workshops on menstruation were held in Cartagena, Colombia, and reached more than 3,600 girls across 15 municipalities. During the workshops, young women were provided with information about the menstrual cycle and encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and discuss the issues they face.

The workshops reached girls from rural communities and gave them the vital information they need about their sexual and reproductive rights.

Period technology

Each girl received a Period Panty pack, which included a pair of underpants with a mesh pocket that can be filled with a reusable absorbent liner.

Girls holding up a "period panty".

They also received a SmartCycle menstrual tracker, a wearable device to help them learn about and monitor their periods, encouraging them to actively manage their menstrual health. Created as a necklace, this tool allows the user to track their cycle through menstruation, ovulation and preparation.

Engaging men and boys to be allies

Boys wearing the period trackers

Overcoming the stigma of menstruation and closing the equality gap requires the support of men and boys, as they play an important role in ending discrimination against girls and women.

Workshops were also held for parents, community members and boys to help them all understand that menstruation is not just an issue for girls.

Boys were taught about the menstrual cycle and asked to write letters of support to the girls of Cartagena to share their affection, empathy and support for them.

Plan International believes that when men are actively engaged and included in these conversations, equity can be built on a foundation of education, respect and mutual trust.

We engage entire communities in the fight to end period shaming and stigma because periods should never hold girls back.

Keeping girls in school

Millions of girls lack access to sanitary pads and safe, private washroom facilities and are unable to manage their periods in a healthy and dignified way. Menstruation is one of the many barriers to girls’ education and Plan International is working to find creative solutions and partnerships to keep girls in school.

Education is a right 130 million girls are being denied right now. But one community at a time, we’re working to improve access to education and unleashing the potential of girls.

Learn more about our girls’ rights work!