When you hear about a girl missing school because of her period, or a woman using a dirty cloth, or leaves pressed together like spinach, during her menstruation, try to imagine yourself in their place. That is the reality women in Cameroon face on a regular basis and which Doreen Bieri, who works extensively with deprived African communities, has witnessed, personally. Yet, commercially produced, disposable pads are not a viable option, as they are costly and add to the solid waste stream.
The Cho Ngafor Foundation
After her father, Cho Ngafor - a teacher dedicated to pro-poor education access - passed away, Doreen promised to continue his work of helping those in need.
Over the years, working in the field of healthcare, Doreen was preoccupied with the topic of female empowerment. This concern led her, in April 2012, to create the Cho Ngafor Foundation, an international organization named after her father. The Foundation, with headquarters in Bern,Switzerland, began by identifying issues in deprived communities in Cameroon and engaging both local and Swiss volunteers. While most NGOs raise funds to send to vulnerable communities, Doreen Bieri decided to help with something more valuable: knowledge.
Through church networks, both in Switzerland and Cameroon, Doreen was able to gather people passionate about sewing and helping others in need to help her produce washable, reusable, pads from second-hand fabric. After reaching her goal of producing 1,000 pads in Switzerland, and sending them toCameroon, Doreen realized that what women in poor communities needed most was a thorough understanding of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the ability to sew these pads for themselves. Thus, in parallel to organizing and leading sewing activities in Switzerland, Doreen launched MHM training sessions and workshops in various underserved communities in Cameroon. To support the learning process, Doreen prepared an educational Q&A brochure, Yes, I am a Girl, that can easily be distributed through schools, libraries, and community organizations.
Every woman has her own emotional story to share about her period, yet many are not at ease talking about it. How is it possible that we still lower our voices when we speak of menstruation, as if it were something to be ashamed of? Feelings of embarrassment, awkwardness, and even shame prevent women from discussing this topic openly. Just imagine, there are more than 5,000 slang words and euphemisms worldwide for “menstruation”! Menstruation, and the hygiene issues surrounding it, deserve to be discussed openly without stigma. Effective menstrual hygiene management (MHM) starts with acknowledging that menstruation is a natural and healthy part of life. Only when we open our minds and our mouths can we start developing solutions. If we keep our menstrual worries to ourselves, if we continue to allow our children to think of this topic as taboo, we risk raising a generation of young people with poor reproductive and sexual health awareness.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Dorena Pads addresses a number of the UN SDGs .
If we keep our menstrual worries to ourselves, if we continue to allow our children to think of this topic as taboo, we risk raising a generation of young people with poor reproductive and sexual health awareness.
Social and health benefits
• SDG 3 - Good Health and Wellbeing
• SDG 4 - Quality Education
• SDG 5 - Female Empowerment and Gender Equality
•SDG 8 - Decent Workand Economic Growth
Lack of information about reproductive health and menstrual hygiene management can lead to underage and unplanned pregnancies and health issues. The use of unsanitary materials can lead to infection and even death. Through community outreach, Doreen and the Cho Ngafor Foundation team have been empowering women, girls, and even boys, with the information they need to properly understand and manage their reproductive health.
Menstruation can interfere with a girl's access to consistent schooling. She may be forced to stay home and miss school for a week or so each month, due to both the stigma surrounding menstruation and a lack of menstrual hygiene products that would allow her to be mobile. Some may even drop out of school completely. The Dorena Pads project offers women a combination of theory and hands-on practice. The theoretical part is learning how to manage their period safely and with dignity; the practical partis being able to actually produce their own reusable washable pads and learning how to properly clean and maintain them. Knowing how to make their own washable pads out of available textiles can eliminate the need to stay home during their periods.
In contrast, having to purchase commercially produced disposable pads can place a financial burden on women, which they themselves may not have the means to support, reinforcing the dynamic of dependence on men.Producing their own pads will eliminate this dependence in the realm of their monthly menstruation. With entrepreneurial support, some may even be able to start their own pad-producing business.
If we are to empower women and girls to experience their periods with dignity, and create greater gender equality, it is essential to deconstruct the bias related to menstruation. Men and boys should be informed as well. The better educated they are, the better will be their understanding and appreciation of the natural changes that occur in a woman’s body throughout her entire monthly cycle.
• SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
• SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption
Commercially produced disposable pads present a number of environmental issues. Plasticized materials and chemicals are often used which are unhealthy for both the body and the ecosystem. Discarded pads end up in landfills and the chemicals can leach into the soil and groundwater. The environmental impact of disposable menstrual hygiene products is quite significant. In fact, a pad takes 500 to 700 years to decompose. Moreover, according to research conducted by the Stockholm Royal Institute of Technology, the production of tampon applicators has a carbon footprint of 5.3kg CO2, and thus contributes drastically to climate change (The Eco Guide, 2016). Therefore, replacing disposable products with washable reusable pads made from reclaimed fabric is far less detrimental to the environment.
The traditional model for the sourcing, production, distribution, and use of the products in our lives follows a linear - or cradle-to-grave - approach (also described as "take, make, dispose")which relies on the extraction of nonrenewable resources and creates excessive waste. This system has been designed with the false believe that unlimited economic growth can be achieved through the exploitation of finite natural resources. The circular economic model, in contrast, follows a cradle-to-cradle approach, using recyclable and renewable materials and keeping them in the system of use for as long as possible, thus eliminating both unnecessary extraction and the creation of unnecessary waste. This is achieved through repairing, recycling, up cycling, or down cycling the products and materials used.
The Dorena Pads project is now exploring the potential of creating washable pads for the Swiss market, and more especially in Cameroon using reclaimed fabrics, that will comply with circular economic principles.
We want to fight stigma, empower the underserved, and make our contribution to the achievement of greater self-sufficiency and more socially and environmentally sustainable ways of living. Only together can we make this dream possible. We would be happy to speak at an event or provide you with educational material. Any contribution will help us to create a better world. You can support the Dorena Pads project in a variety of ways:
• Become a member of “Cho Ngafor Foundation”,participate in our events, and have a voice in decision making
• Donate sewing machines and/or materials
• Provide space for sewing activities
• Become a sewer yourself
• Help us to distribute educational materials
• Invite us to conduct presentation, workshop, training; let us be part of your event
• Make a donation
We want to fight stigma, empower the underserved, and make our contribution to the achievement of greater self-sufficiency and more socially and environmentally sustainable ways of living.
If you have questions, suggestions, request for collaboration or feedback please do not hesitate to contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Learn more about“Dorena Pads” a project under the “ChoNgafor Foundation”
• Dorena Pads Facebook Page
• Dorena Pads Instagram Page
• Dorena Pads YouTube Channel
UN Division of Sustainable Development Goals (2020). SustainableDevelopment Goals.