When Fatima* got her first period, she was terrified. She had seen the girls in her class miss school during their periods and eventually drop out altogether, because their school didn't have a functioning restroom that they could use, or they couldn’t afford period products. She was afraid that the same thing would happen to her.
This is the reality for a lot of women and girls all over Africa. While data about the issue, and particularly how it impacts girls in Africa, is generally lacking, one 2016 UNESCO report estimated that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Sarahan Africa miss school during their period — by some estimates, this means a girl can miss up to 20% of a school year.
Because of this, their performance in school suffers, with some girls even dropping out of school completely, lowering their chances to increase their earnings and standard of living, and affecting their entire future.
Good menstrual health and hygiene rests on so many factors — access to clean water, access to sanitary products, better policies that help with period management, access to toilets and facilities where they can manage their periods, among others. It is important to work on all of these issues if we ever hope for better menstrual health management in Africa. The good news is that there are a lot of organisations across the continent working to help make sure girls are better supported to manage their periods.
From pushing for policies that help improve menstrual hygiene, to educating women and girls about menstruation and their bodies, here are six organisations working toward better period management in Africa.
AFRIpads was founded in a rural village in Uganda in 2010 and today, the social enterprise manufactures reusable sanitary pads and partners with organisations like UNICEF and Save the Children to improve menstrual health in Africa.
AFRIpads also creates and distributes Girl Talk, a comic booklet that explains menstrual periods in an engaging and accessible manner.
“The period is the most common experience women share, so why should so many of the world's women experience it in isolation and [be] unable to go to school or go to work or just freely do household activities?” AFRIpads co-founder Sophia Klump said in an interview with NPR.
Founded in 2018 by Candice Chirwa, a South Africa-based gender activist, speaker, academic, and author, also known as the "Minister of Menstruation", Qrate creates informative content about menstruation through multimedia platforms and advocacy workshops.
By doing this, the organisation hopes to help young people gain critical thinking skills to understand their circumstances and explore options open to them.
“I’ve realised that critical engagement and discourse on stigmatised social issues that have beset our country are important to provide in a child-friendly manner and can potentially provide an alternative way to empower the next generation,” Chirwa told Global Citizen.
A lot of Qrate’s content centres around teaching young Africans about menstrual health and how to understand their bodies in order to combat stigma surrounding menstruation.
According to a 2016 report, 65% of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary pads. ZanaAfrica is working to change this.
Founded in 2007 by Megan Mukuria, a graduate of Harvard University and a leader in Sexual and Reproductive Healths and Rights (SRHR) education, ZanaAfrica leverages both sanitary pads and menstrual health education as a solution to the issue.
The organisation has supported more than 50,000 girls with accessing pads since 2013, and is providing a safe space for women and girls to learn about their bodies and health.
As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ZanaAfrica launched The Nia Network to provide free phone services so that girls and women can continue to access the organisation’s services.
4. Pad-Up Africa
When she was nine, Ashley Lori had to manage her period using newspapers and rags. Now, she is advocating for better menstrual health management for other women and girls through Pad-Up Africa, an organisation she founded in 2016.
Pad-Up Africa educates women and girls on good menstrual hygiene management while organising and planning campaigns to advocate for better SRHR education in Africa. Since Pad-Up Africa launched, the organisation has reached over 5,000 African women and donated 10,000 sanitary pads.
5. Sanitary Aid Initiative
According to the World Bank, 25% of women in Nigeria lack adequate privacy for menstrual hygiene management and, because menstrual products are expensive, a lot of girls are not able to afford them, forcing many to drop out of school. Enter Sanitary Aid Initiative.
Founded in January 2017 by Karo Omu, Sanitary Aid Initiative provides free sanitary pads and other sanitary products to girls in low-income communities, public schools, and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps all over Nigeria. They have provided sanitary pads, wipes, clean underwear, and other products to over 20,000 girls.
Through its blog, Sanitary Aid Initiative also educates women and girls about various things ranging from the pros and cons of menstrual cups, to managing hormonal acne.
6. Speak Up Africa
In Senegal, menstruation is still a taboo subject that many women and children are discouraged from talking about. Because menstrual blood is considered “an impurity,” a lot of women and girls have long struggled with the stigma around their menstrual health and hygiene. This is what Speak Up Africa is trying to tackle.
Speak Up Africa is a network of communications and advocacy experts who create awareness campaigns and advocacy for public health and sanitation. Partnering with KITAMBAA, an organisation that provides sanitary pads to women, they launched a campaign in 2021 to advocate for the implementation of public policies that help with menstrual hygiene management.
Its campaign "Menstrual Hygiene Management: From Taboo to Economic Power" also provides reusable menstrual kits to women and girls.
You can join Global Citizens around the world in taking action to help combat period poverty and ensure all girls can access the education, health care, and nutrition they need to thrive by supporting our Empower Girls NOW campaign. Get started by taking our period poverty quiz here and head here to see all the actions you can take to empower girls.