Project Dignity - Stopping girls from missing out on a quarter of their school careers
Two years ago, when Sue Barnes’ daughter came home from school with a note asking for donations of sanitary pads, she made a shocking discovery. “Every month seven million South African schoolgirls between the ages of 10 and 19 are missing a week of school because they are menstruating and can’t afford to buy pads or tampons. That’s a quarter of their school career – all because of something they have no control over.”
The girls were resorting to desperate measures, stuffing their underwear with anything they could find – sand, leaves, newspapers and old cloths – all of which can cause infections. Sue says “one girl told me she used to sit in a field for a week each month” rather than go to school.
Having worked in the fashion industry, Sue decided to design a sanitary pad that could be washed and reused. After a few interactions of the design she settled on an absorbent, layered pad that clips around the panty with wings, and a panty with comfortable fit. In true entrepreneurial spirit, Sue says “I raised funds and got a whole lot made, and we started distributing them at schools. Each pack includes sealable packets so the girls can change the pads at school and take them home to wash. One pack should last a girl her entire high school career.” Devastated family units are a rising problem across Africa and many of the girls have no mother. Sue discovered that “When we were handing them out I started talking to the girls and realized they knew nothing about what was happening with their bodies”. Now Sue uses an apron with a diagram of the female reproductive system on it as a way to explain the physical aspect of menstruation to the girls.
The panties and pads (now nicknamed Project Dignity) have now been absorbency approved by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and the design patented. Sizes go from small enough to fit a 10 year old through to XXXXL.
Sue has had lots of positive feedback on her project. “A headmaster emailed me the other day. He said one girl’s marks had gone from 48% to 85% as she was no longer missing school. Girls no longer have to drop out of school because of something so natural.”
For US members that may want to find easier ways to donate please contact sue or leave us a comment below and we will investigate additional options to make online donations.
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