Sanitary Pads for Girl Empowerment

Story and photos by Lesley Gittings

The simple act of sewing and providing a pad to a girl can have an enormous impact.

Once a girl in Malawi starts menstruating, she is likely to miss three days of school every month. The reason? Most girls don’t have access to safe and comfortable menstrual hygiene products. Not only are pads too expensive for most Malawian girls and women, they are also widely unavailable in rural areas where 85% of the country’s population lives.

Girls already have to worry about school fees, heavy work pressures at home and lack of electricity to study at night. Not being able to attend school while menstruating makes access to education all the more difficult.

In October 2012, the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA) partnered with WUSC in Malawi to find a way to help these girls through the Tilimbikile project.

Developed by Uniterra volunteer Lesley Gittings, the name Tilimbikile captures the resilient spirit of Malawian women who are dedicated to improving their lives and bettering their nation as a whole. The project is run by a dedicated group of volunteers and local partners.

The pilot consisted of training three groups of FAWEMA volunteers called Mother Groups in Nathenje and Malili and in the Dzaleka refugee camp. Mother Groups carry out interventions in schools to support girls to work hard, stay in school or return to school if they have dropped out. The intervention is based on an idea by the Liwonde Mother Group. When the women sewed reusable pads for girls in their community, they saw that the girls’ missed less school and their academic performance also increased.

materials ready for sewing

Materials ready to be sewn!

The project not only encourages young girls to succeed in school, but it also helps empower Mother Group members as they are able to earn an income and support their families. A total of 35 women and seven men were trained in sewing pads and basic business skills for income generation. The business management training was facilitated by Jacob Mapemba, WUSC Malawi Country Director. The pad is made using locally available materials and designed it so that it can be easily hand sewn.

WUSC and FAWEMA also helped certain Mother Groups build their skills training so they in turn can train other women in the future. The trainings, although not without challenges, have been a lot of fun. It is very inspiring to see the women passionate about helping girls and empowered to make a difference.

Lesley with the training participants

Lesley with the training participants from Nathenje Secondary School. 

To learn more visit the Tilimbikile project website or check out the YouTube video explaining the project.


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