When people say “we’ve already beaten gender inequality” this list of gender issues immediately comes to mind…
Domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, lack of access to education, arranged marriage, anti-abortion laws, rape culture, media sexualisation, gender roles, the glass ceiling, parental leave policies, sex trafficking, under representation in politics, breastfeeding in public, sexual harassment, women in sport, women in tech, body image, restricted freedom, honor killings.
An uncomfortable list, yet we clearly need to start somewhere. For many women in sub-Saharan Africa, the reality is that they must overcome barriers to education before they can aim for equality in other important realms. Nelson Mandela wishfully philosophised that
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
But globally, 65 million girls are not in school (Unicef 2013). So something has to change. We need people in communities to help break down the barriers preventing girls from the opportunity of education.
Menstruation prevents many girls from attending school. A girl who misses school due to menstruation for four days each month loses 156 learning days throughout four years of high school. Health advancements to support girls with menstruation could give them back 24 weeks of education. This would give them a more equal chance at education as their male peers.
‘Petal’ is one of three enterprises in the WSV portfolio. The micro-enterprise trains small groups of local people to become entrepreneurs and empower themselves and their communities by running a Petal franchise where they supply their communities with re-usable sanitary towels. As well as this, they educate their community on menstruation for free, as ‘87% of girls are completely unaware about menstruation and have no knowledge regarding its purpose as a biological process.’ (Unicef, 2012). This education breaks down the stigma and barriers that menstruation has historically caused for girls across the world.
When we provide a solution to one problem, such as menstruation stigma, we often provide solutions to multiple other gender issues. In the case of ‘Petal’, local women, and where possible men, are included in the process and are empowered to start a business together. This may address traditional gender roles in their communities, putting women on a more equal footing with the men. Furthermore, breaking down the stigma surrounding menstruation by educating the community will benefit not only school aged girls. It will benefit adult women too; freeing them from judgement and potential discrimination.
We are still a long way from achieving real gender equality. But the good news is that social enterprise ‘Petal’ is effective and ready to be franchised out to charities.