In Malawi, a local NGO is seeking to economically empower young girls and kept others in school by making and using sanitary pads. That’s because many girls stay home rather than go to class when they have their menstrual cycles.
The project, known as ‘Keeping Girls in School’, is championed by the Girls Empowerment Network, or GENET. It’s a Blantyre-based NGO which works to advance the rights, status and well-being of adolescent girls.
The girls learn tailoring skills, in part by making re-usable sanitary pads from imported water-proof materials.
Joyce Mkandawire, the communications adviser for GENET, says “The project is about social entrepreneurship where we have reached out to girls who have been literally doing nothing in their homes. Some [have earned their] Junior Certificates of Education while others have Primary School Leaving Certificates, but were just sitting in their homes without anything to do. So we have to look at the way of assisting them through entrepreneurship skills and keeping some other girls in school.”
Mkandawire says the one year pilot project seeks to train 30 girls to make the pads and also to mend women’s clothes. They will be distributed to girls to 15 rural primary schools in southern districts of Blantyre and Mulanje.
In the meantime the project has enrolled the first 10 girls in areas just outside Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre. They are currently taking part in the three month-long training course. Afterwards, they will be placed in a group of three girls each which will receive a sewing machine for making and selling the pads.
“After training,” says Mkwandawire, “these girls will have their own businesses in their communities [where] they are expected to train more girls so that it has the multiplier effect. They have gotten the skills from here but also they should transfer the skills to others from there. So the project will be buying the sanitary pads from the girls from their businesses.”
Mkandawire says the pads are an effort to keep girls from skipping classes. The NGO will buy the pads and distribute them for free to the school girls. The project leaders say the pads are re-usable and should last for up to three years.
Some studies in Malawi show that many female students in rural areas stay away from schools for at least five days during their menstrual periods, a development that affects their performance in class.
“Some Malawi statistics,” she explains, “show that some girls enroll in primary school but fail to continue with their education because some have started menstrual period. So we had to look at a way when we could keep the girls in school.”
Catherine Keta is among the girls learning to make sanitary pads at the organization’s offices in Blantyre.
“This training,” she says, “will assist us so much because we have been staying home. Now it’s just like we have something to do that can empower us. Now the future holds something great because life will longer be the same as I have something to do even after I go home”
Another trainee Yasinta Mpinji is being raised in a family with only one parent, her mother. She says the tailoring skills will help turn around the living standards of living in her family.
“I have my mum only,” she says, “and I feel tailoring can improve our family because if I do this [tailoring business] I can buy food, some clothes and may be use part of the funds to pay for my school fees as well as for my younger sisters and I can even teach my mother and other people how to do tailoring.”
The project is run with support from the United Nations Human Settlements Program, The Netherlands–based aid agency, the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid and a local beverages company, Carlsberg Malawi Limited.