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Young women leaders in the CAMFED Association (CAMA) are spreading awareness and taking action this Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28). They have experienced first hand how period taboos, a lack of sanitary wear and pain relief, as well as inadequate toilet facilities at school, can cause girls to miss days of classes, or even drop out of education altogether. Our network of empathetic leaders from five African countries is sending a message about the action needed to fulfil girls’ rights, and it's going global.

“Missing classes a lot and failing to concentrate on the days you actually manage to come to school with the period, then getting bullied for not having proper sanitary wear, some friends of mine ended up dropping out completely.” - Esnath Divasoni, CAMFED Association member, Zimbabwe

Read Esnath’s blog: The lack of menstrual products pushed many of my friends out of school

In a new blog post, CAMFED Association member and EARTH University graduate Esnath gives a candid account of what the onset of menstruation meant for her and other girls in her school. The anxiety, embarrassment and pain of getting periods without the means to manage them, together with other gendered barriers to education, meant that in a group of more than 20 girls only six were able to complete their end-of-school exams.

During her years at secondary school, when Esnath was selected by her community for CAMFED support, she received high quality sanitary wear — prohibitively expensive for many families in rural Africa — as part of her  scholarship package.

Esnath’s fellow CAMFED Association member, Grace from Ghana — a current student at EARTH University — is also drawing attention to this injustice. She has organized a campaign, including social media posts, a video and a webinar to get her peers talking about periods. They are calling for better menstrual health education, wide access to menstrual products, and an end to taboos and discrimination.

Led by the 157,000-strong Association, CAMFED is taking active steps in these areas to provide the holistic support that girls need to learn and thrive in school and beyond. This starts with supplying sanitary pads to every CAMFED-supported student, together with other essentials, such as school uniforms, shoes, and books. She will also be surrounded by a network of community activists, including a CAMFED Teacher Mentor (often female), support groups made up of local parents, and older peers in the CAMFED Association.

Led by CAMFED Association (CAMA) member Grace, young women and men from around the globe have released a video in celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Reusable sanitary pads made by young women in Malawi

Reusable sanitary pads sewn by CAMFED Association members in Malawi.

To date, 9,145 of our CAMFED Association members have been trained as "Learner Guides." They return to their former schools as life skills and wellbeing mentors, including to deliver menstrual hygiene sessions, break down taboos, and answer the questions that girls may hesitate to ask teachers or parents. Our ‘Guides’, together with their network, reach girls who are not directly supported by CAMFED too, creating a powerful multiplier.

Many young women are also stepping up to provide sanitary wear where it is most needed; Dorcas from rural Ghana, for example, runs a social enterprise which sews and donates a reusable sanitary kit for every basket that is purchased from her collective. Across Africa, CAMFED Association members donate packs of pads to more girls; including in a ceremony on this year’s International Women’s Day in Tanzania, where young women presented sanitary wear for the local government to distribute to school children.

To lend your support to the young women stopping periods from pushing girls out of school, you can make a donation here.

To find out more about CAMFED's work to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ education, read the latest on Forbes.