Helping African girls stay in school – one pad at a time?

Cross-posted at BlogHer

In 2007 FemCare, the Procter & Gamble (P&G) unit that makes Always pads and Tampax tampons, started a program called “Protecting Futures” to donate Always disposable sanitary pads to girls in southern Africa in hopes of keeping African girls in school. In Africa, where adequate menstrual supplies are generally nonexistent, it is not uncommon for girls to use newspapers, rags or camel skin to try contain their period. Rather than risk the embarrassment of bleeding through their clothes, many girls stay home from school during their cycle each month, which can lead to them falling behind in their studies and possibly dropping out of school altogether. Always, as well as Tampax currently have commercials encouraging people to buy their products to help these African girls stay in school. Two of the commercials can be viewed here.

In addition to donating disposable sanitary pads, P&G will donate fresh water; build bathrooms near the schools so the girls have access to privacy and incinerators to deal with the waste that will be generated from the disposable pads, packaging, etc.; start a health, hygiene and puberty education program; and provide the girls with healthcare.

What’s in it for P&G a New York Times article asks.

A great deal, marketing experts say. For one, girls who use free pads today can turn into paying customers when they grow out of the school programs. They could persuade their mothers and aunts to use the products.

“When you need to change a culture, it’s good strategy to start with the younger generation,” said Jill Avery, an assistant professor of marketing at the Simmons School of Management.

And the program sits well with the Kenyan government, which has cut tariffs on Procter’s sanitary pads. Lisa Jones Christensen, an assistant professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, who is familiar with Procter’s philanthropy programs, says that Procter receives special treatment when its containers hit Kenya’s docks.

“No one is saying, ‘Just unload the pads, leave the boxes of Tide,’ ” she said. “This program is giving P&G a license to operate in Africa for all its products.”

There is a payback in the developed world, too. “The idea of keeping an African girl in school resonates strongly with our consumers,” Ms. Vaeth said.

They aren’t the only skeptics. A. at A Changing Life wonders what the girls will do once they no longer have access to the pads.

I started to wonder if Tampax or Always are really suited to a life of poverty or near-poverty in rural sub-Saharan Africa. The costs of continuing provision will be high and who will cover those costs when the girls leave school? How will they manage when the facilities provided at the school are no longer available to them? I can’t help feeling that there is little altruism in Procter & Gamble’s efforts, and that they are hoping to turn the girls into paying customers.

Vanessa at Green As A Thistle feels P&G “are missing the bigger picture.”

I mean, it’s great that they want to help girls out with this difficult time of the month and make sure they stay in school, but is the best way to do that with bleached wads of cotton and disposable plastic? It made me fret, I must say.

Maia at Touchingly Naive believes it is wrong to push Western products on these women and “to make women in developing countries believe (as we already believe) that they need Western pads and tampons instead of more sustainable and/or traditional solutions.”

What do you think? Does Procter & Gamble have any business getting involved here, whether it is in the name of education or not? Could they be causing more harm than good?

Goods for GirlsDeanna Duke of Crunchy Chicken took issue with the environmental impact of all of the disposable pads (and possible pollutants emitted from the incinerators) and, after mulling it over on her blog, decided to take action. She started Goods 4 Girls, a web site to organize the collection and distribution of new reusable menstrual pads to African girls.

Goods 4 Girls was started to seek out donors to sew or purchase new, reusable menstrual pads for donations to areas of Africa where these products are needed most. Providing reusable supplies not only provides a more environmentally friendly alternative for these young women (in areas of adequate water supply for washing), it reduces their dependence on outside aid organizations to continue providing for their monthly needs. Working in concert with aid and relief organizations, we identify areas of need and have the ability to distribute the donations where they are most needed.

Some might wonder why Goods 4 Girls is focusing on reusable menstrual pads rather than menstrual cups like the DivaCup or Keeper. Deanna says it is “because of potential hygiene issues, using a reusable menstrual product that gets inserted into the body requires additional education and “processing” such as cleaning the cup with boiled water. Additionally, we are culturally sensitive to potential taboos with young girls using an insertable product.” That and other questions are answered in the FAQ.

Goods 4 Girls has received positive responses from several organizations, but one of the primary ones they will be working with is located in Uganda. The relief organization had this to say about the current situation in their country:

The girls’ problems in South Africa are not different from those in Uganda, except that it is worse here. We recently watched a TV program which highlighted this problem in the villages to the extent that some children missed their end of year exams because of their inability to contain their menstrual outflows or had never even used a pad at all!

Your offer has come at the right time and we pledge our full support and cooperation in this endeavor. Our target areas are firstly and foremost the schools both in towns and villages, with the latter taking priority.

If you are interested in learning more about Goods 4 Girls and how you can help, I encourage you to read more here. To add a banner to your site and help spread the word, please see the contact page.

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15 thoughts on “Helping African girls stay in school – one pad at a time?

  1. This reminds me of when the formula companies a few years ago decided to donate a couple of months worth of formula to an area in Arfrica. All of the mother’s milk dried up, and babies ended up dying because once the formula ran out, and the mother’s couldn’t afford it, they didn’t know what to do.
    I think the consequences of these things are not always apparent, and need to be thought through more before just moving forward. Rarely is a big problem like this solved so easily.
    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Excellent, excellent post! I saw one of the ads and it made me really uncomfortable, but couldn’t quite put my finger on the reasons why. You’ve really laid out all of the arguments really well.

  3. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve seen the commercials and my first thought at the time was why is no one sending them reusable cups? I’m not a big crunchy one, but even I have my moments ;)

  4. I kind of agree that they should be looking into other products. Educating them on the Diva Cup is not nearly as expensive as shipping and supplying products every single month for up to 5-6 years of their lives. Washable pads would be great, too, if they have adequate water supply.

  5. Proctor and Gamble is 150% evil and I haven’t bought their products (knowingly) since 1994. Many children in Africa already live in Garbage dumps, why isn’t P&G touting the increased housing capacity from all the used sanitary pads? How wonderful for the Africans that P&G would help them out. (I’m disgustedly joking here. I just get really pissed off when companies try and pass off selfish motives as humanitarian.)

  6. great post…my first thought when seeing the ad was “this is odd” money in it for someone…I was wondering if they could donate funds from their profits to help in other ways but that wouldn’t get their product out there…interesting and a bit sad.
    I love the ides behind Good 4 Girls! Thanks for the info!

  7. Thanks for letting us know about Goods 4 Girls. I definitely think the P&G appeal is more based on helping their market share than anything else. We’re P&G free here for years because of their animal testing, among other things, so I’d be loathe to get involved with anything they’re doing. But the G4G looks really good, off to read more.

  8. Great post! Like Half Pint Pixie, I boycott P&G too, and have for years, and this to me sounds more like a marketing campaign, than just that they want to help.

    Good 4 Girls is on the right track, that’s awesome, and I didn’t know about that.

    Thanks for a great post!

  9. Wow, this is all new to me! I hadn’t heard. Thanks for the good article! I’m skeptical of P&G’s intentions as well, but it’s obviously a problem that needs to be dealt with. Sounds like Good 4 Girls is on the right track.

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