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Goods 4 Girls: Reusable Pad Drive

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | February 26, 2008

Fellow eco-blogger Crunchy Chicken is a truly amazing woman– that rare person who sees a need and then figures out a way to fulfill it.

After reading about Proctor & Gamble’s program Protecting Futures, which donates disposable (plastic and bleached cotton) menstrual pads to young women in Africa, Crunchy realized there had to be a better way to help those women out. While it’s debatably admirable for P&G to donate supplies to women and girls who otherwise might use rags and/or banana leaves and/or camel skin(!) as protection, and often miss school due to inadequate supplies, there are obvious downsides to the scheme– 1. P&G is getting a new demographic hooked on their expensive, imported product, and 2. the disposable, non-biodegradable pads will create an environmental nightmare for these communities, who often burn their trash.

Realizing that reusable menstrual pads are a better alternative to disposables, Crunchy started Goods 4 Girls:

Goods 4 Girls was started to seek out donors to sew or purchase new, reusable menstrual pads for donations to areas of Africa where these products are needed most. Providing reusable supplies not only provides a more environmentally friendly alternative for these young women (in areas of adequate water supply for washing), it reduces their dependence on outside aid organizations to continue providing for their monthly needs.

Goods 4 Girls is accepting donations of homemade reusable pads (here’s a list of tutorial/pattern links), waterproof zippered pouches, and will soon be set up to accept PayPal cash donations for the cause. Some online retailers of reusable pads are also offering a discount if you make a purchase expressely for donation to the program.

If you decide to donate pads to Goods 4 Girls (either homemade or storebought), let us know in the comments below!

Topics: Activism, Crafts/DIY, Health, Waste | 27 Comments »

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Comment by rachel
2008-02-26 08:15:05

This is a great idea! I was thinking along the same lines, but thinking menstrual cups might also be a good choice…

Comment by Jenn
2008-02-26 12:46:11

Hey Rachel! I think that menstrual cups are an ideal solution (for *everybody*, really) but some cultures have issues around inserting things internally, etc. It did say on the Goods4Girls site that this is something they’re thinking about in places where it would be culturally acceptable, though.

Comment by rachel
2008-02-26 19:25:09

Yeah, I saw that on the Goods4Girls site after I made this comment. But I was glad to see it still might be a possibility in certain areas.

Comment by Susan Goellner, CNM
2009-02-05 06:59:17

HI Jenn. Islamic women are not permitted even a routine annual exam during certain holidays,eg Ramaddan. Nothing is to enter the body except when the sun is down. However there are significant cultural and/or mindset taboos that seem to prevent many women from ALL backgrounds, American included, from becoming aware of their own body parts.My experience is fairly multicultural, and what is paradoxically amazing to me , is that women who would not consider a tampon or cup, are willing in great numbers to shave the vulva to the perineal area even during the last months of pregnancy! Not the topic at hand, but inquiring minds(all of mine) would like to know when and where this started…the whys, of course, are personal….When asked the women often say, they “don’t like the hair”……There is a seeming reality among cultures that come to the US, that in one year of living here their health statistics convert to our profiles.

Is the Good4Girls group providing basic health education especially anatomy and fertility cycles,as well as the pads? Education is the key, I believe.

Feel free to edit…..I am definitely rambling….love the newsletter!

Comment by Frank
2008-02-26 10:14:28

This is the second time that the topic of menstruation has come up on this blog in a short time, and I gotta say that, as a guy, it carries a pretty hefty “ick” factor. Sorry, but it’s true.

Once I fight past my initial recoil, though, it does make a lot of sense. I am not only going to donate cash, but I will spread the good word over at my blog. I am making this charity #4 in my charity-a-week challenge.

Comment by delqc
2008-02-26 11:03:53

Women have been told that their bodies are disgusting and gross for far too long. No one calls a baby in a diaper “icky”, for example, which is far grosser (pee! poop!) than menstruation. Thank-you for working past your initial response.

Comment by Frank
2008-02-27 11:12:14

no, nobody calls the baby icky,(or the woman), but what they leave in the diaper/pad/cup/toilet. I put blood, pee,poop, puss, and vomit (sorry if anyone just gottotally grossed out!) all in the “ick” category regardless of who it came from. After all, if it weren’t icky, then we wouldn’t need pads/cups/diapers/toilets at all!

Comment by Jenn
2008-02-26 12:30:10

Hey Frank– Thanks for your honesty– it’s good to get feedback on this (and any) issue, because it fosters more understanding than previously existed. It’s truly amazing that menstruation, one of the most natural processes there is, is generally regarded with disgust. We as women are raised in the “ick” culture along with you men, and it’s baffling, really. We’re taught to hide it, to throw it away, to be as discreet as possible… and while it’s not necessarily something that needs to be shouted from the rooftops (unless one really wants to), it’s also harmful not to have an open dialog about available options. Anyway, glad to hear you do understand the meaning of the cause– and, on behalf of sisters everywhere, thanks for spreading the word!

Comment by Amy
2008-02-26 21:58:04

” It’s truly amazing that menstruation, one of the most natural processes there is, is generally regarded with disgust. ”

Why just tonight I heard this (summarized) conversation between two 7-11 clerks:

“Yeah, I hope Obama wins.”
“Eh, I don’t know about a woman president.”
“What do ya mean?”
“Well, you know, once a month she gets all crazy and weird and probably bombs some country somewhere”

Comment by michelle
2008-02-26 10:28:08

i admittedly was horrified when i first saw the P&G ad, and even knowing that it could potentially lead to the male recoil as expressed by Frank, brought it up to a male acquaintance. i am THRILLED that crunchy chicken is doing something to counter it.

here’s a question, though. (this is from the land of not knowing at all, rather than trying to undermine any good intentions): is there really a situation or is it a marketing ploy by P&G? Is there really a shortage of supplies -or- is there a shortage of supplies that are deemed appropriate by westerners? is there also a cultural reason that the girls and women do not go to school (i.e. perceptions of being dirty when you have your period)? i’m asking this because i find it hard to believe that females are walking around bleeding on themselves. it is not a new biological phenomenon. again, i am asking this in all seriousness from not knowing at all what the case is and would love input and information. i am, by no means, trying to down play crunchy chicken’s efforts.

Comment by delqc
2008-02-26 11:12:02

I’m nervous about this cause because while I think it is important for girls to not miss school for something as normal and trivial as their period, I also don’t understand the qualitative difference between “rags” and “reusable menstrual pads” except for the fact that one word has a more negative connotation. Part of the effort in revitalizing cloth pads is a recognition that women’s periods, and the materials they use to absorb the blood, are not vile and gross and dirty but a normal part of life. Cloth pads are, ultimately, rags… ones that get washed and cleaned, but rags all the same. I use the same recycled material from my home to make my reusable pads as I do to make reusable wash cloths (terry cloth, usually from worn-out towels). And for all I know, banana leaves are extremely absorbent, a renewable resource, and free. I don’t think we should evaluate something as poor or inadequate because it is different from what we do now – which is of course the same argument that makers and users of cloth pads have been making for a long time now!

I think we need to be careful about labeling foreign women as “dirty” because their menstrual practices are different than ours. Does that mean that we shouldn’t help if we can? Of course not… but I think we need to be careful that we don’t do the same thing that P&G is doing: telling women that their bodies are dirty and that they need a specialized western-made product to avoid that. Even if the product is a sustainable one, I don’t think this does these women any favours.

Comment by Rachel2
2008-02-26 13:11:58

I agree, Delqc. Very well said, both comments.

Comment by Deanna
2008-02-26 15:03:21

Hello all,

Jenn asked that I stop by to address some of your questions. These are great comments and these are the types of questions that need to be asked.

It certainly would seem like this is a marketing ploy for P & G but it is, unfortunately, not. This is a huge problem in many areas of Africa, mostly those affected by conflict, poverty and disease (HIV/AIDS and malaria). I have cited a few NY Times articles on the Goods 4 Girls site, but there are many other resources stating the issue. A simple Google search will turn up probably more than you want to know.

There are no comprehensive statistics out there at this point – some of the ones I’ve seen state that 800,000 girls in Kenya are in need of support. There are 3.3 million village girls in Uganda that have issues with gaining supplies as well (I’m working on clarifying that number). The governments in both these countries recognize this is a problem as they have either reduced or altogether removed duty and taxes on imports of sanitary pads.

Unfortunately, it is the case that some girls are walking around bleeding on themselves. I have heard from many in-country aid organizations stating the fact that these girls have nothing to use when they go to school. In some areas they do not even have scraps of cloth to use. This is a result of the intense poverty in many areas. There is high incidence of infections because women and girls resort to using newsprint and other unsuitable materials.

As for “rags” versus cloth menstrual pads, it is important to point out that their rags consist of scraps of cotton – great for coverage and keeping cool in warm climates, but not exactly absorbent. If the methods they were using now were adequate, it wouldn’t be a problem and this project would be a moot point. What I’m finding out, however, is that this isn’t the case.

I know this is anecdotal, but one of the organizers I am working with, a Kenyan, had this to say about the problem and the Goods 4 Girls project:

“The problem of sanitary towels here is a big one due to poverty and they are expensive. It is sad to see girls using pieces of old clothing that can barely suppress the flow. I am glad we are making giant steps in this direction.”

Thanks, Jenn, for letting others know about this project and I am open to answer any other questions your readers may have.

Comment by delqc
2008-02-26 21:39:04

Hi Deanna,

Thank-you for taking the time to respond and engage in this dialogue! A couple of more questions for you:

Has the program considered facilitating whichever traditional methods the women of these cultures would ordinarily have used for absorbing menstrual flow? Cloth pads are in many ways a throwback to what was used by anglo-saxon women a hundred years ago, but now with fancier snaps and velcro and the like. There may be traditional methods that were used by some of the groups you are trying to reach that were in effect pre-colonization that were appropriate to the local climate and available resources. Has this been investigated?

Has your program considered efforts to provide local women with materials of their choice (i.e. absorbent fabric) to make reuseable pads themselves, rather than providing them with the pads directly? If the problem is a lack of suitable materials (e.g. them using non-hygenic newsprint) I could see how this could be a way to generate local industry (some women could make pads to sell or trade for other goods for example) as well as encouraging individual autonomy, while also addressing the lack of menstrual pads issue. Plus, they could decide for themselves what was a suitable style/shape/material, rather than having western women decide for them.

Also, I feel like I need to mention that all the reuseable pads I use are made from cotton (terry cloth) and old clothing (recycled flannel pyjamas), although I am fully aware that my old clothing is probably different from the “old clothing” described here, and certainly the climate is very different. However, in my experience, cotton itself is an excellent material for pads, and can be farmed sustainably (although I realize that it often isn’t), rather than the PUL which, from what I understand, uses non-renewable materials. This comment might be more relevant for Western women considering the use of pads, but I thought it might be worthwhile to mention it given your comment above that cotton was non-absorbent and inappropriate to use.

I don’t want to come off as questioning the validity of the cause, because I think that efforts to improve the health, safety, dignity, and quality of life of some of the world’s poorest of women is nothing short of noble. However, there have been so many western-based projects that go in to Africa with Western people providing a Western solution, when the problems often have local solutions that could work, and I think it’s so important to provide local people with what they ask for rather than what we as Westerners think they need.

Comment by allison
2008-02-26 18:28:09

I like the overall idea of this, even though I don’t use reusables myself, but I’m wondering about the water usage. All the pictures and info I get tell me that most countries in Africa are in a desert or other dry climate, making water scarce.
How true is this? And if it is true, what good are reusables if you need to soak and wash them?
Fill me in!

Comment by Deanna
2008-02-26 19:09:45

Hi Allison,

Great question – it’s my primary M.O. in checking out areas for distribution. I’m working only in areas where water is not scarce. This is one thing that I’m am making sure is the case – these pads are unusable otherwise.

For Uganda, it gets regular rainfall and I’ve been assured from the people that live there that water is not an issue. For those areas that are swampy (near Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world) I’m working with an aid organization that is putting in wells in those areas, so access to clean water isn’t a problem.

In Western Kenya, the area is not as dry as in the East (which is what you normally see in the media). Again, I’ve been assured that water is available in the areas where the pads will be distributed. This information is coming from people who live there, so I have to take their word for it. They know as well as I that without water, this is more a public health hazard than a help.

I hope that helps. Keep the questions coming :)


Comment by Frank
2008-02-27 11:18:41

That is awful. I hope Obama wins too, but I look forward to our first Female President someday.

The counterpoint to that conversation is this… “Oh yeah? Women’s hormones cycle every month, but Men’s hormones cycle every few minutes!

It’s true! We men get “hormonal” at random! But just like women, we use rational judgement anyway. (most… ok some of the time.)

Comment by nava
2008-02-27 12:57:05

I’ve joined up! I’m very excited about this. not only because I want to help these girls get to school but I also want to help them avoid the health problems associated with disposable products.

Comment by Frank
2008-03-01 09:31:06

My post about this effort is now up over at my blog, in case anybody was wondering.

2008-03-02 20:05:37

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Comment by Mercy Mabian
2010-03-09 10:37:51

Oroko Cultural Association, Inc
3000 Mistymorn Trace
Powder Springs, Ga. 30127
Cell: 678-471-5019
Website: http://www.angelsfororokochildren.org
Website: http://www.orokousa.org
Website: http://www.orokogeorgia.org

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Mercy Mabian, the president of Oroko Cultural Association, Inc in United States of America. Oroko Cultural Association is a not-for-profit/tax exempt organization as defined by IRS Code 501(c) (3). Oroko is a tribe located in remote areas of Ndian and part of Meme Divisions of Southwest Cameroon Region in West Africa. With the assistance of sponsors, we provide assist to Oroko children living in the villages, through “Sponsor an Oroko Child Project”. This project caters for the interests, growth, and development of all Oroko children living in the villages, attending Primary and Secondary Schools. It provides financial assistance to Oroko children motivating them to reach their full potential. Please see our website http://www.angelsfororokochildren.org for more details.
Due to the extreme hunger and poverty in these areas, parents can not afford feminine hygiene products for their children. Girls from 11years to 17years are forced to miss classes for seven days each month during their menstruation because of lack of feminine hygiene products. As a result, they get behind in their school lessons and eventually drop out of school. We receive our funding from generous and sympathetic people like you and also from companies like yours. Will you help us meet our goal of placing Reusable Sanitary Pads in each girl’s hand? These girls need 2,000 feminine hygiene products for 100 schools in the area.
Please send your donation to the address above with the check payable to Oroko Cultural Association, Inc. and the purpose for (always written on the bottom left of your check) should be “Feminine Hygiene for Oroko Girls.” On the other hand, please send your gift to the address above. The value of your gift(s) and postal cost will be sent to you for tax purpose. We will recognize your gift(s) with labels on each one that will tell all our student girls that it was you who invested in their academic success. In addition, your name or your company’s name and logo will be added to our website as our sponsor. Your gifts will have significant impact on their abilities to maintain their studies and successfully graduate. Thank you for partnering with our student girls

Best wishes

Mercy Mabian


Oroko Cultural Association, Inc

2010-11-29 22:31:41

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