In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 5/28, Global G.L.O.W. has been working to fight against period stigma and poverty.
Global G.L.O.W. is an international non-profit organization that works with its partners in 23 countries on achieving gender equity. Mentoring young girls plays a large role in their activism. They feature three key initiatives in these mentorship programs.
GirlSolve focuses on the disparities that girls face in formal economic opportunities. GLOW Club helps girls to progress their ability to advocate for themselves, their emotional wellbeing, educational and community engagement and impact. The final initiative is Healthy GLOW, which works to educate girls on maintaining healthy bodies and relationships.
Involving both boys and girls in period activism is crucial to ending period stigma.
This organization has found its part in numerous projects and individual initiatives with its partner programs throughout its years, and discussions about women’s periods has often been at the forefront of their work.
Their Ugandan partner Art of a Child holds an initiative called Girls for School. This program has taught girls how to sew reusable pads. Notably, the program has included boys in this work, helping to combat period stigma and proving that boys are valuable contributors to activism in women’s issues.
Talk About It. Period.
The most recent call to action put out by Global G.LO.W. comes in the form of their new campaign, Talk About It. Period. The campaign, like their previous work, combats the combination of misinformation and lack of information that contributes to period stigma and the inequities that it causes, period poverty being among them.
The campaign calls for better educational systems about menstruation to combat these problems. On their website they have a pledge that can be signed to commit to speaking out on these issues. Additionally, they offer a curriculum about periods that can be downloaded and viewed.
Crystal Sprague on supporting girls through Global G.L.O.W.
Crystal Sprague, executive director of Global G.L.O.W, was graciously available to answer a few questions about the work she and her organization do.
- What experience or knowledge inspired the work that you do with periods?
- Global G.L.O.W.’s mentorship model was initially created to support girls in vulnerable communities to complete their secondary education. A few years after our mentorship programs had been established and were flourishing, we asked girls–what else do you see that’s keeping you and your peers from realizing your plans to finish school? The answer that we heard over and over again from girls in our programs was this: girls didn’t have the support or knowledge they needed to make healthy choices about their own bodies, namely, when it came to their periods. Research all over the world has backed this up. A lack of period support, and the interruptions to education caused by period stigma and low menstrual health supplies, can put girls far behind their male classmates—up to 145 days behind. It causes many girls all over the world to drop out of school entirely. We have therefore adapted our programming to include opportunities for girls to learn about their periods and advocate for necessary, requested supports—so that they never have to miss school due to their periods again.
- How have you noticed that period stigma most affects girls, particularly in the countries that G.L.O.W partners with?
- Global G.L.O.W. works in 23 countries, and while the effects of period stigma are nuanced in various locations, they are also strikingly similar. Girls in India, Kenya, Nepal and the United States learn to be ashamed of their periods and are therefore unable to advocate for what they need—whether it’s a trip to the bathroom or period products to get through their cycle. At the most extreme, we hear about girls who so desperately want to attend school that they trade sex for period products. More typically, however, the shame and stigma of bleeding through clothes keeps girls at home while they are menstruating. A few days a month of this and girls can fall behind in their studies, leading to alarmingly high drop out rates. In Uganda, the estimate is that one in 10 girls and menstruators will miss school due to their period. In the United States, that rate is one in 20. Neither rate is acceptable for a normal, biological occurrence—periods should not impact school attendance.
- What has been the impact of the work you’ve done? What do you notice as before and after effects of the work with boys and periods specifically?
- Global G.L.O.W.’s main goal is that girls have what they need—support and information to advocate for themselves and make their communities stronger. Our program, Healthy GLOW, has created a safe space for girls to ask questions and get the support they need to thrive. Girls in our programs, like Kashish, have rightly pinpointed that when boys bully girls about their periods, it causes real consequences. And I use the word bully intentionally—it is not just teasing and cannot be excused as such when the consequences of period stigma are so dire for so many. Many people speak about raising our girls like we raise our boys, with strength and leadership opportunities, but in instances like this we need to educate our boys to be more like our girls—to show empathy for what girls and menstruators go through and have courage to advocate on behalf of them. Educating boys about periods is not something we’ve pushed or even suggested to our clubs or mentors, but it’s a natural and necessary reaction. The clubs, mentors and girls have risen up to provide this education in their communities. And the results are impactful—removing this source of shame has a real impact on a girl’s mental and emotional health. Dr. Ugo, our community partner in Nigeria who routinely educates boys about menstruation, said this phrase really hits home for them: “If boys are not ashamed of growing a beard during puberty, why should girls be ashamed of their periods?”
- Can you speak about the Talk About It. Period. campaign and what the intentions for it are?
- In the United States and around the world, very few people of any gender are willing to openly, in a normal tone of voice, discuss the normal and natural occurrences of periods. How can we encourage girls to advocate for themselves about their period needs if adults won’t even talk about it in the matter of fact way it should be discussed? Beth Brier, one of our senior program managers, says the first big step we can all take is to agree to say, “I’m on my period,” without shame or hiding, and it will make a world of difference. We absolutely believe that this is true, and it’s an action anyone and everyone can commit to doing that will have real and tangible, positive effects for the girls in our lives—just Talk About It. Period.
- Finally, anything else you would like to add or would like to have featured in the article?
- If you’d like to provide support for girls all over the world to learn and be supported with their period needs, consider making a donation to Global G.L.O.W. Our 13-week Healthy GLOW program is being implemented for over 2,000 girls in 22 of our community-partner sites in 2021, and we have every intention to increase those numbers.
Kashish Khan on the impact of these initiatives.
A club participant and co-creator, 15 year old Kashish Khan, from the Girls for School program was also available to comment about the impact of the initiatives.
- How has this program impacted you and the community you live in?
- Girls for School has made me very confident. It has helped me to become a voice for the many girls who can’t necessarily speak for themselves. It has also provided scholarships for girls in our community.
- What has changed since your participation in this program?
- Girls in my community have started going to school and have improved their feminine hygiene.
- What developments did you notice with the boys you worked with? How did they act/think at the beginning vs. how they came to be at the end?
- The boys changed a lot, and they have stopped bullying the girls. They have taken up the responsibility of helping girls when they are in trouble, and they have started to support girls’ education.
- Anything else you would like to say or have featured in the article?
- I would really like to say that my co-creator, Patience, and I are really proud of our project, Girls for School. It has changed many girls’ lives, including mine and hers, and we thank you all for your support and help.