Nonprofit Spotlight: Dignity Period Seeks to Empower Women in Ethiopia
Most American women can’t imagine their “time of the month” as a cultural stigma preventing them from attending work or school, but such is the case in some parts of Africa. St. Louis-based Dignity Period is working to bring light to menstrual health, and since December, the nonprofit has joined forces with Ethiopian institutions to distribute kits of reusable sanitary pads, underwear, soap and educational pamphlets throughout the country.
“We are a women’s empowerment organization … trying to improve life circumstances and increase education—it’s just a specific way of leveraging it,” says co-founder Dr. Lewis Wall, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and anthropology at Washington University-St. Louis. “(Menstruation) is something all women can relate to.”
Wall and his wife, Helen, who cofounded the organization with him, discovered their passion for the cause while teaching at a medical school in Ethiopia and credit their involvement to one woman in particular: Freweini Mebrahtu, who returned to Africa after graduating and working in the US with a mission to help young women who, like herself, experienced shame during her teenage years due to cultural taboos surrounding menstruation. She decided to design environmental-friendly, reusable sanitary pads and to produce them locally in a factory, where she currently employs about 40 young women and teaches them to sew.
After Mebrahtu shared her story and commitment to the cause with the Walls, they were hooked. “The thought of girls hiding because of their period is just so sad … most of my friends are outraged at the idea that they may not even go to school because of it,” says Helen. “Girls need to have more self-esteem. That’s what (our organization) means— dignity for these girls.”
The Walls soon established a three-way partnership between Dignity Period, Mariam Seba factory (Mebrahtu’s production base) and Mekelle University in Ethiopia, which sponsors distribution. Their goal is to reach 50,000 young women in 2015.
For more information about the organization, visit dignityperiod.org.