As a strong believer in promoting the voice of disadvantaged populations of society I was shocked and ashamed to learn of the injustice that girls across East Africa (and throughout the developing world) were missing school every month due to their periods. Shocked, because at that time there was a deafening silence on the issue, even within the development sector, and ashamed, because I had for my entire life taken for granted the relative ease with which I could deal with my periods without sparing a thought for those without my good-fortune. What to me was an annoyance, I realised could become a life changing burden on reaching your potential.
Irise were set up by a small group, with a big vision: A world where no girl should be held back by her period.
After extensive exploration of the issues the founding committee, originally based at the University of Sheffield, chose to focus on setting up local, women’s run, social enterprise groups to produce an affordable, reusable sanitary product and run training on menstrual health education for teachers and community leaders to disseminate high quality information.
Since then Irise has gone from strength to strength, with 6000 girls receiving the EasyPad, 8000 girls benefiting from Irise menstrual health education and 20 local women engaged in flexible employment, allowing them to afford the school fees of their own children.
What sparked this interest and why did you feel compelled to work in this are?
My interest was truely captured by the direct stories of individual girls who were doing their best to continue with a normal life whilst menstruating but were forced to stay at home without any sanitary product or hide from their friends if they’d leaked onto their skirts. It seemed to me such a stark example of the gender inequity that exists worldwide, but rather than horrific, unmissable examples such as gender-based violence and maternal deaths this insidious and entrenched culture could easily go unchecked whilst widening the gender gap for millions of girls. Watch Irise’s new animation – Periods Changes Lives – and you’ll be captured too.
What has been your biggest achievement to date and what are you most proud of?
My proudest moment culminated on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2014. Firstly, as it provided some time for reflection on how far the field of MHM had come in the 5 years I had been involved and Irise’s involvement as one of the first international partners of the day. But more importantly, I was proud to see women and girls marching side by side with men and boys in recognition of the Menstrual Hygiene day at Kampala International University – the very first Friends of Irise Uganda event. Since then the student support groups in Uganda and wider East Africa have grown in number and strength and I am immensely proud of their achievements.
What issues do you feel particularly passionate about and important to address or change?
I am passionate about women and girls having choice. I believe girls in Uganda should be given the same choice about their education and future as women and girls in the UK. And I believe those same girls should be given the choices that their Ugandan brothers receive. Anything else is an gender-based injustice against their human rights.
We cannot know what their choices in life will be until we start providing them with a platform to speak.
In what ways do you feel the public could get involved or behind your cause or to help improve the situation?
Join us in helping to Break the Silence this Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May). We’re calling for you to pledge your support and become a MHM Superhero. We’d love to see you doing your thang in Superhero style – share your photos on twitter. And by investing as little as £2.50 in a girl’s future you can support her through her whole school career.
Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day Everyone! Let’s celebrate.
It’s through events like these that we can really bring about awareness and momentum for change. Whilst my experience focuses around East Africa there is so much overlap between MHM issues in other spheres such as the affects on women without homes and shelter in the UK. It’s through sharing and debating that new ideas are generated and new connections are made.
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