For approximately 6.25 years of every woman's life, equaling 2,280 days, she has her period. And this incurs significant financial costs. With 70 percent of women using tampons, for example, she will go through an average of 9,120 tampons in her lifetime, adding up to over $1,700.00.
But outside the U.S., the costs of menstruation are even more compelling. From Africa to Asia, from Australia to Uganda, some girls still cannot afford access to sanitary supplies, instead resorting to using leaves, mattress stuffing, newspapers, corn husks, rocks, or anything else they can find. And since this prevents girls from attending school, they miss an average of two months of education every year.
The loss of girls' education, however, does not only affect them. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), investing in the education of girls is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty overall. By one estimate, countries that do not meet gender parity in education are at risk of foregoing 0.1 to 0.3 percentage points annually in per capita economic growth. Further, as better-educated women participate in paid employment, families enjoy higher income and overall productivity increases. And for rural economies, the education of women and girls may further translate into higher agricultural production. That's why in Kenya, for example, one study estimated that crop yields could rise up to 22 percent if women farmers enjoyed the same education and decision-making authority as men. Simply put, all of this is being negatively impacted simply by the improper provision of sanitary supplies to women and girls.
Enter Days for Girls, a non-profit organization that provides quality and sustainable feminine hygiene and awareness to some of the poorest communities in the world. Believing that every girl deserves an education, safety and dignity, Days for Girls provides direct distribution of sanitary "kits" to non-profits, thus far distributing over 100,000 to women and girls in over 75 countries, and on six continents. But it doesn't stop there. "We also help other organizations start their own programs, and train ultra poor communities to create their own supply kits," says Celeste Mergens, Executive Director and Founder.
Comprised of only a travel-size soap, one washcloth, two gallon-size freezer bags, and eight thin pads in a drawstring bag, each kit lasts an average of three years, thereby translating into six more months of education in a girl's lifetime.
And this all adds up to what is considered life-changing for these girls, as evidenced by Susan, from Kenya, who said that "she could never ask for money for pads from my father because he has not budgeted for this need." "Often times," she continues, "I have missed school or improvised with pieces of rags and cotton wool." Or for Stella, from Uganda, who says she can "Now go into public without having stains on my clothes, and I can also now earn a living by making these kits and selling them myself." Or for Noreen, also from Kenya, who adds, "When we have these kits, we can do something great in the world. Without education, we have nowhere to go," she continues. "We can achieve our goals now."
But perhaps the most heartfelt response came from another young woman in Uganda who, upon receiving her first kit, looked directly up into the eyes of the volunteer and said, "We will no longer have to fear."
"And that's our organization's mission," Mergens says. "To provide every single girl and woman in the world with ready feasible access to quality sustainable hygiene and health education by 2022... one girl, and one woman, at a time." And, clearly, they're all counting on it.
Lori Sokol, Ph.D. is an educational psychologist and founder of Difference Matters magazine.