In western countries, most girls and young women can’t imagine having to miss school or even dropping out because of their periods.
However, as many as half the girls in rural parts of Ethiopia are absent from school for reasons related to their periods. And missing that much school can have a devastating effect on their education and lives.
Freweini Mebrahtu knows personally what it’s like to deal with the issue.
“I remembered (hearing) that it’s a curse to have a period … or that it meant I am ready to be married, or (that) I’m bad.”
Freweini, who is from Ethiopia, has dedicated her life to changing this cultural stigma, and in 2005 she designed a reusable menstrual pad.
Her factory in Ethiopia and her team now produce 750,000 reusable pads a year. Non-governmental organizations purchase more than 80% of the pads and distribute them for free.
Nearly 800,000 girls and women have benefited directly from this project.
In turn, Freweini has also teamed up with the nonprofit, Dignity Period, to end the stigma around the issue. She speaks at schools teaching girls and boys that menstruation is natural, not shameful.
“The whole goal was not only making the pads but also attacking the cultural baggage to it,” she said.
Dignity Period has distributed more than 150,000 free menstrual hygiene kits purchased from Ms. Mebrahtu’s factory.
Data gathered by the group shows that schools visited by Dignity Period had a 24% increase in attendance among girls.
Freweini Mebrahtu received the CNN Hero of the Year in 2019 for her work.
Freweini Mebrahtu is ‘A Woman to be Admired.’