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Article Girls Across The Globe Are Missing School Because Of Their Periods

Growing up in Connecticut, Sophia Grinvalds would pick a queue with a female cashier when she went shopping for tampons, just to avoid making her purchase in front of a male employee.

But when she ended up working in Africa after graduation, she said she quickly realised that the "sense of fear or embarrassment" that comes along with menstruation and access to supplies in the U.S. can have astronomically bigger consequences for women and girls there.

Grinvalds had been living in a remote village in Uganda for five months when she was met with an unpleasant surprise: Her period arrived, but her feminine-product supply had run out.

"I did what any sensible person does," she recalled. "I sent my boyfriend into a village to go and find me some pads."

After coming up empty at the local depots — six-foot-by-six-foot wooden shacks that sell everything from eggs to soap — her now-husband, Paul, hitched a ride on a motorcycle to find a merchant that had Grinvalds' needed supplies in stock. An errand that would have lasted 30 minutes or fewer back home in the U.S. ended up taking Paul more than three hours.

That "rude awakening" about the availability of supplies prompted Grinvalds to ask some schoolmistresses she knew about what local women and girls did to manage their monthly periods. A "waterfall of information" followed.

For the women and their female students, menstruation was "more of a barrier to participating in daily life than just a physiological experience," Grinvalds recalled. Without access to reliable menstrual products, these girls' schooling and work suffered.

One in 10 schoolgirls in Africa misses school or drops out altogether because of her period.

Soon, Grinvalds started up a new venture producing and distributing pads in developing countries. Five years later, AFRIpads estimates that its products have now reached 750,000 women and girls.

That's made all the difference for girls like Amet, a scholarship student at Wurko Secondary School in rural Ethiopia.

With few resources for managing her monthly flow — other local girls used rags and layered underwear to prevent stains — Amet started staying home when her period arrived. “I didn't want to have a leak at school,” Amet recalled. “It would have been so embarrassing.”

Then she got a reusable pad through a programme supported by AFRIpads partner Lunapads, a Canadian company that produces reusable feminine products.

“Having them made my life much easier,” Amet, who remained in school as part of the Class of 2015, shared in a recent testimonial.

AFRIpads, run by Grinvalds and her husband, and other companies providing supplies such as pads and period cups to young women in need, represent just one piece of a growing international effort to keep girls throughout the globe in school by providing them with supplies, facilities and knowledge to help manage their periods.

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