For hundreds of thousands of young women around the world, period poverty is a fact of life. It’s about having limited or even a lack of access to sanitary products. And the consequences in terms of education and general inequality with day-to-day living are huge.
Issy Sanderson, from York Ainsty Rotary and a Rotary ‘Champions of Change’ winner, has been at the forefront of an initiative called Yorkits. In many developing countries, due to poverty, many girls have no feminine hygiene provision and can’t go to school during menstruation, therefore they are missing out on large parts of their education.
Listen to this article
Since 2013, Yorkits has been helping these girls by providing them with access to uninterrupted schooling.
She explained: “When girls are menstruating, they are unable to go to school. Not only does this impact their education, but also puts them as risk of abuse.
“The girls are at home by themselves, rather than in a safe school environment.”
The kits provide women with dignity and a chance to take control of their own health.”
Worldwide, one in ten girls are unable to afford sanitary products, with one in seven borrowing sanitary wear from family and friends. Many, as young as 10-years-old having barely reached puberty, are forced to improvise.
Issy added: “I have witnessed girls and women trying to cope in the poorest of conditions.
“Some of the women and girls use feathers, others sleep on piles of dirt due to lack of access to any type of sanitary products.
“In Nepal, when women are menstruating, they are not allowed to stay in the comforts of their home.
“They have to stay somewhere else, often in barns and shacks which sometimes are so small that they cannot stand up or be comfortable.
“The women are not allowed to touch food or anything others may touch, meaning they rely on others to bring them food to eat.”
It is against that background that the Yorkits project is based. Yorkits is a Rotary-run community ‘hands-on’ project which involves a range of volunteers coming together to make washable, easy-to-use, feminine hygiene kits for girls in developing countries – and it goes from strength to strength.
The kits are of a low-cost design, packed into colourful and bright drawstring bags. A single kit can last a girl on average three years.
The kits contain panties, a washcloth, a bag for soiled items and a zip lock polythene bag to wash items in areas of little water access. These are eco-friendly, cleverly designed kits.
Issy explained that the Yorkits project is designed to elevate sustainability and self-care for women who would otherwise be deprived of it.
She said “Yorkits focuses on creating sustainable female hygiene products as well as offering workshops on how individuals can make their own, making them self-sustainable and self-sufficient.
“The kits provide women with dignity and a chance to take control of their own health.”
In many developing countries, due to poverty, many girls have no feminine hygiene provision and can’t go to school during menstruation, therefore they are missing out on large parts of their education.”
Every year, a special annual Yorkits workshop takes place at York Minster. Before the pandemic, the workshop attracted more than 200 volunteers creating kits. The next one is due to take place on Thursday, March 10th.
York Ainsty Rotary also leads its monthly Saturday workshops at the Methodist Church Hall in Copmanthorpe, four miles south-west of York, where club members work on the kits.
The programme is funded through donated materials and financial donations. The kits are taken overseas by volunteers and distributed to projects abroad which are led by Rotary, churches and other voluntary organisations.
In some areas, York Ainsty Rotary has seed-funded schools and women’s self-help community groups to make their own kits out of local materials. This is greatly encouraging the development of self-sustainability.
The York Ainsty Rotarian explained the Yorkits project is having an impact. It helps empower the girls and women to take charge of their own menstrual health situations.
“This has also had an unexpected positive result of reducing the incidence of sexual abuse and childhood pregnancies,” she added.
Over the past six years, York Ainsty Rotary has sent the kits to 13 African countries – Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Eswatini, and The Gambia.
Kits have also been sent to India, Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan. Recently, kits were distributed in Kolkata, India, to schools, as well as to a night-watch ambulance project.
Issy said “Since being set up, over 2,000 kits have been distributed to women in need, helping hundreds of girls learn to make their own encouraging self-care.
“We have also sent kits to refugee camps in Europe. Some of my workshop team actually take the kits out to the projects themselves and work as volunteers in schools, orphanages, community initiatives and slums.
“The Yorkits kits give the girls, as well as their mothers and other women in their communities, dignity and the chance to take control of their own situations.”
If you are interested in finding out more please visit the Yorkits website.