Regina – YOUR TIME Women’s Empowerment Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in the wake of the 2016 American election by three Regina, Saskatchewan women: Sandy Beug, Lisa Peters, and Lois Vanderhooft. They were inspired by Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, particularly her words to young women urging them not to despair: “And to all the little girls who are watching never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” The three women were able to recruit several like-minded friends quickly, and a movement was born.
A diverse group of individuals enthusiastically agreed to join the board: a lawyer, a veterinarian, a teacher, a school administrator, an accountant, several prominent business women and men, a pharmacist, a physician, a dentist, civil servants, a professional musician, a university student and young mother, a First Nation social worker, and a former cabinet minister and current member of the provincial legislature. They strongly believe that one way to empower young women is via education. A need was identified: every month young women stay away from school due to a lack of menstrual supplies. The group decided that this problem was there they would start; that they would begin to raise money to provide menstrual cups, to young women in two targeted locations.
YOUR TIME Women’s Empowerment Foundation’s mission is to provide girls and women with the knowledge and sustainable resources to manage menstrual hygiene. Sandy Beug comments, “Our vision is that, once the lack of feminine product no longer prevents girls from attending school more young women will complete their education, realize their potential, and thereby become empowered to contribute to their communities and ultimately rise above poverty”
Bill Gates famously asked how a country that isn’t utilizing half of their talent could possibly hope to succeed. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor. If women’s level of employment matched men over the next fifteen years on a global scale, the gross domestic product worldwide would go up 12%. Two thirds of the approximately 75 million children denied education are girls. Every year of education that a young woman receives correlates with a decrease in infant mortality by 9.5%. UNICEF estimates that one in ten school-aged African girls do not attend school during menstruation. The World Bank statistics show absences of four days of school every four weeks for menstruating young women. Specifically, girls in Kenya miss 4.9 days of school per month, adding up to 20% of the school year. Fifty-eight percent of girls in northern Ethiopia have dropped out of school after experiencing teasing and humiliation by classmates after their clothes were stained with blood as they do not have access to sanitary napkins. Also, when they are in school, girls avoid standing up to answer teacher’s questions because of leakage, and they avoid writing on the blackboard for fear that others may see blood on their clothes. Young girls are often targeted when it becomes evident that they are menstruating as becoming sexually mature, and they are subsequently harassed by male teachers and older boys. In Kenya, the cost of a pad is $1.00 CDN – the average daily income of an unskilled labourer is $1.50. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are reports of girls engaging in transactional sex to purchase menstrual supplies. Ten percent of fifteen-year-old rural girls in western Kenya engage in sex for pads, and there are higher numbers of girls under the age of fifteen forced to do this. Others resort to using unhygienic rags and even leaves.
Menstrual cups have only become widely available and used within the last than years, although they have been available much longer. In 2011, the College of Family Physicians of Canada published a report on the use of menstrual cups compared to tampons: its conclusion was that menstrual cups have the potential to be a sustainable solution to menstrual management with much-reduced environmental effects compared to tampons. The average woman uses one box of tampons or pads every period. This adds up to 11,000 to 16,000 in a lifetime – 150 pounds of trash. Plastic tampon applicators from sewage outfalls are one of the most common forms of trash on beaches and flushed pads and tampons are the most common causes of plumage problems. One reusable menstrual cup can last up to ten years. Menstrual cups can be in place for ten to twelve hours, obviating the needful toilet facilities. They are chemical free – tampons and pads have bleaches and other chemicals which disturb the pH of the vagina. They provide overnight protection and are low leakage. There is little to no risk of toxic shock. Menstrual cups are lightweight and compact. This factors make them easy and affordable to ship. The young women can discretely carry them. They are relatively easy to care for: a rinse after each change, and disinfection in boiling water at the end of the period. There are existing successful programs in place in Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania, which provide menstrual cups to young women. These programs have proven empowering and have decreased the number of school girls dropping out of school. Other alternatives such a reusable menstrual pads were considered. They necessitate changing pads throughout the day, which is difficult because of the lack of toilet facilities in several schools. Also, they need to be washed and are frequently improperly dried rendering them unhygienic. They also are prone to saturation and leakage.
WHY SUPPORT NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN AND COLOMBIA? Although we were not able to find statistics for those locales, we were able to personally speak to individuals who were aware of the acute need of young women there. On October 30, 2016, a 13 year-old girl from LaRonge became the sixth girl to take her life in northern Saskatchewan in a thirty day period. Member of Parliament Georgina Jolibois called on the federal government to address immediate health needs in communities in the north: “How much louder do our kids need to be?”. Sheila Robillard, the Director of Corporate Services for the Athabasca Health Authority, state that a Social Assistant applicant receives $305. per month. This meagre amount is expected to cover all expenses except heat, electricity, and rent. Prices for goods in northern communities are astronomical, often two to three times the cost of goods in the rest of the province. The cost of one-month supply of tampons or pads at northern stores range between $15 and $20. Many young women miss school or work due to lack of menstrual supplies.
Life by Life is a foundation whose mission it is to change shelves of Colombian youth through education sport, are, and mentorship. Life by Life focuses on bridging educational and human development gaps one life at a time. Damon Weigl was born and raised in Regina and has devoted several years helping underprivileged youth in Medellin, Colombia. He has proven successful in encouraging young people to stay in school and has enriched many lives in his time there. The ten poorest countries in the world are in Africa, but there are already numerous organizations and programs making inroads there for menstrual management. By having personal contacts both in northern Saskatchewan and Colombia, we hope to be able to directly distribute to those young women in need with little to no overhead.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 28 (Right to Education) addresses the right of all children to a primary education, in schools that protect their dignity and which are orderly and well managed. Every month young women are facing embarrassment and indignity due to lack on menstrual supplies. The provision of a menstrual cup is a simple solution: affordable, environmentally friendly, discreet, and reusable. By starting with a pilot project of two communities that we can be directly involved with, and implementing successful distribution and acceptance of menstrual cups there, we hope to be able to expand our program to more young women in the future.
Someone once said of Ginger Rogers: she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backward and in high heels. We hope to remove at least one obstacle to young women’s success and change the world one life at a time.
For further information, please contact:
Sandy Beug – [email protected]
Lisa Peters – [email protected]
Lois Vanderhooft – [email protected]