One in 10 girls around the world do not have access to sanitary products when they get their periods, often preventing them from going to school for up to a week every month. If we add up all those lost days, it amounts to around a quarter of their school year. When girls miss this amount of school it puts them at risk of dropping out altogether, which reduces their future employment opportunities and leaves them vulnerable to child marriage and early pregnancy. In Colombia, poverty and discrimination adversely affect adolescent girls and women, leading to high rates of gender inequality, violence, and sexual abuse. For this reason, Plan International has partnered with social enterprise Be Girl to break the taboo of menstruation among adolescent girls and boys and improve access to female hygiene products that enable girls to better manage their menstrual cycle.
Be Girl is dedicated to meeting the needs of girls lacking access to hygiene products.
“Menstruation is a real problem for many girls in the world because of the high cost of sanitary pads,” said Be Girl co-founder Diana Sierra. “Because of this, when they are on ‘their days,’ they do not go to school.”
Plan and Be Girl held a series of workshops in Cartegena to reach more than 3,600 girls in 15 municipalities. During training sessions, young women were provided with information about the menstrual cycle and encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and discuss the issues they face.
Each girl received a Period Panty Pack, which includes a pair of pants with a mesh pocket that can be filled with a reusable absorbent liner. The leak proof design is environmentally friendly and doesn’t expose women to unnecessary chemicals or perfumes, allowing the girls to manage their periods for free.
The girls also received a SmartCycle menstrual tracker so they can learn about and monitor their periods.
Created as a necklace, it is an educational tool for reproductive health management. The mechanical disk rotates clockwise to follow the stages of a woman’s cycle. By rotating one number to the right each day, starting on the first day of their period, a woman can track her cycle through menstruation, ovulation, and preparation.
The workshops enabled Plan to reach girls from rural communities and give them the vital information they need about their sexual and reproductive rights.
“We are very proud that Diana Sierra and Be Girl are part of our Plan for Colombian children,” said Alejandro Gamboa, National Director for Plan International Colombia. Only by working together can we achieve change for girls and gender equity.”
In order to overcome the stigma of menstruation and close the inequality gap, it is also important to have the support of men and boys.
Plan includes parents, community members, and boys in gender programs and also holds workshops for young men to help them understand that menstruation is not just a female issue—it’s a universal one. Boys are taught about the menstrual cycle and asked to write letters of support to the girls of Cartegena to share empathy and support for them.
Plan believes that when men are included in our work, equity can be built on a foundation of education, respect, and mutual trust.