Empowering women. Period.

All around the world, women and girls face a monthly reality: menstruation. Periods are often taboo, something shameful, to be hidden away and never mentioned. Certainly menstruation is often considered a women-only topic – we ask each other for help if we’re in a tight spot and have forgotten a pad or tampon, we talk in coded language about cramps, irritation, and other inconveniences we tend to bear in silence each month.

It is truly unfortunate that menstruation is still considered a shameful and unacceptable topic in most places. And for many women silence is just one of many challenges they face each month. In countries where access to clean sanitation facilities is already a struggle, having a steady supply of sanitary products can prove difficult, whether for availability or cost reasons. For those of us who have access to supplies it can be easy to overlook the importance of pads, tampons, Diva Cups, whatever we use for menstrual management. But consider what you would do if you couldn’t access those supplies during your monthly period. Would you be able to go to work or school? Leave the house to socialize? Likely not – or you would have to improvise a pad from something around your home, like a rag or old shirt, increasing your risk of infection and likely leaving you feeling vulnerable and insecure about leaving the house.

Luckily, periods are starting to gain attention around the world – whether women in the US and other countries are protesting the “pink tax” or women like Leslee Jaeger are working to develop local and sustainable solutions to provide women with safe, reusable menstrual management supplies. Recently, Leslee co-funded Helping Haiti Work to do just that: provide locally made and affordable menstruation kits and create an economic opportunity along the way. Helping Haiti Work now has two sewing centers around Cap Haitian where woman work to craft reusable sanitary pads and prepare “kits”, which contain a pair of underwear, washable and reusable sanitary pads made from cotton fabric, soap and a sealable bag to store used pads before washing. The kits are designed to look like a cute clutch bag, making them subtle enough to carry around.

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SOIL and partners distribute Haitian-made menstruation kits after Hurricane Matthew.

After Hurricane Matthew devastated southern Haiti, Leslee and her partners at Helping Haiti Work decided they wanted to contribute to emergency response drives, and donated a large number of their menstrual kits to SOIL’s hurricane relief effort.

In December a friend of SOIL’s, local activist and community leader Rea Doll, distributed the kits in Darbouze, a community in southern Haiti that relies heavily on the tourism industry. The impact of Hurricane Matthew in this community will likely be long-lived, as the decrease in tourism means that many families are having to pull children from school to save money and also work to bring in additional income. In the face of these challenges, menstruation presents an even bigger issue for women.

Rea, in collaboration with a local organization called OJED, distributed kits to women throughout Darbouze. Additionally, Rea realized that the kits could provide an opportunity to create jobs in Port-au-Prince and southern Haiti by replicating the work Helping Haiti Work has done in northern Haiti. Rea will be working with Leslee and her partners to further explore the possibility of opening a sewing center in Port-au-Prince (where Rea has space in the school she runs), and distributing kits throughout southern Haiti.

At SOIL, we were honored to be of assistance in connecting Helping Haiti Work’s generous donation to Rea and OJED, and we are so excited to see sustainable and entrepreneurial solutions like Leslee’s growing through new connections and opportunities to serve an ever increasing number of women.

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