Days for Girls is an international organization that focuses on providing access to good quality, sustainable feminine hygiene products to women and girls in places where there is very little access to these products. The organization also provides much-needed health education to the recipients. Days for Girls International began in the US in 2008. And since then has reached over a million women and girls in over 110 countries. Feminine hygiene and proper menstrual management is a simple yet effective way to give women and girls the opportunity to uninterrupted school and work every month.

A few years ago Helen Griffin came across Days for Girls International and their work and was interested in helping out in any way possible. Motivated by her daughter, Helen went further than just helping out, she started the New Zealand Chapter of Days for Girls; right here in Palmerston North. Helen says this was the first Days for Girls chapter started outside the US. “We now have about twenty registered teams around New Zealand, who sew the ‘kits’ to be sent to girls and women overseas,” she says.

The sanitation kits that the Days for Girls teams make consist of 2 outer waterproof shields, 8 thick liners, 2 pairs of underwear, 1 washcloth, a small bar of soap and a chart to mark the dates on, and also a zip lock bag for soiled items – however they are currently working on making a waterproof bag to replace the plastic zip lock bags, for environmental reasons.  The DfG teams also create heavy flow kits with thicker liners and larger shields for women with heavier flow and those who have given birth recently. All the kits come in a drawstring bag, made of pretty fabric. “In Africa, the girls tend to also use the drawstring bags as backpacks for their books,” Helen said. “So we make the bags going to Africa a little bigger and also use durable ribbon instead of the string so it doesn’t cut into the skin when the girls use them as backpacks” she explained. The material used to make all the items is carefully selected by Helen. She chooses cotton fabrics that are breathable, and of darker shades. She tries to choose pretty fabrics and steers away from prints of animals, bugs, food, etc. The fabric is chosen by Helen and then sent to the sewing teams scattered across New Zealand.

Most of the kits sewn in New Zealand go to the Pacific islands, some to go Africa and a few to Cambodia. An estimated 20% of the kits made here are distributed to women within New Zealand, leaving the majority to be sent overseas. Helen explains that this is mostly because women in New Zealand have more access to feminine hygiene products than women in several communities overseas. However, she has donated several kits locally to Just Zilch and Pink Packets. Helen tells me that the offcuts of the material after they cut out the shields and the liners are made into reusable breastfeeding pads. So very little of the material goes to waste. The breast pads are also sent over to where the need is greatest.

The Days for Girls teams around New Zealand are currently working on an order for a thousand kits to be sent to the Pacific region by early 2020, Helen said. The kits are usually taken over by anyone traveling to these countries. Helen encourages anyone taking kits overseas to complete the online course through the Days for Girls website, as she likes to ensure they can provide the necessary education as they distribute the kits. Helen says educating the women and girls receiving the sanitary kits is as important as the kits themselves. To highlight just how important this education is, Helen told me a story of a girl who thought she was dying when she started to bleed. This girl had no one she could speak to and explain to her about what was happening; until Days for Girls happened to go to her school in the village she lived in and held a talk about periods and what it was all about and how to manage it. This information and understanding of how the human body functions are something we take for granted, Helen says. We tend to think that every woman surely knows and understands what menstruation is, but that is sadly not the case. This is why educating the women and girls receiving the kits is just as important as the kits themselves.

There are women and girls around the world who miss out on days of school or work and providing for their families every month, simply because they don’t have any access to sanitary products. This is the need that Days for Girls International is trying to meet. “Turning periods into pathways” is the tagline the organization uses. The ethos of their work is that giving women and girls their days back means their communities and our world grow stronger.

“We are changing the status quo through quality menstrual care solutions, health education, and income-generating opportunities that give back days of opportunity and health.”

Women in several communities around the world experience serious period poverty. They use rags, banana leaves, feathers, and even cow dung to manage their menstruation. The organization provides a safe, long-lasting, washable and beautiful alternative to these women. One that they can depend on and use month after month; together with vital health education. Days for Girls provides products and services in accordance with WaSH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). Universal, affordable and sustainable access to water, sanitation, hygiene, and hygiene education is a key public health issue in international development. WaSH is linked to improved health, life expectancy, student learning, gender equality, etc.

Helen also tells me that she is collaborating with the Department of Corrections to get the women there involved in making DfG kits; which they are free to use for themselves or make for their daughters, nieces and other female family members. Helens says depending on how neatly the sewing is she could also send some of the kits produced by this group of women overseas.

Helen and the teams around New Zealand depend heavily on monetary donations. They do occasionally receive donations of fabric itself. However since there are so many criteria for material that can be used, DfG is extremely grateful for any and every penny they receive as donations. The reason for the selection criteria is important and has very practical reasons attached to it: the darker the cloth the fewer stains show up; the prettier the cloth the more suitable they are for girls – who have very little to call their own, so why not make something pretty for them to use; the cloth also needs to be cotton and breathable, for obvious reasons; the print is important as animal/bug prints or food prints etc. is inappropriate for the purpose.

So, if you would like to make a difference in the lives of women and girls across the world, head on over to the Days for Girls New Zealand web page. You can either make a monetary donation or ask to be a part of or start up a DfG sewing group in your area.

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