As community members have sewn face coverings this year, Wadena-Deer Creek senior and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America chapter president Angela LeComte is joining with a cause to sew reusable feminine hygiene products for girls and women around the world. She’ll be relearning to sew to make Days for Girls kits.
“It’s important because a lot of people don’t talk about this topic because they probably feel that they’re uncomfortable talking about girls on their period,” LeComte said.
The Days for Girls organization started in 2008 with a learning experience in Nairobi, Kenya where girls in an orphanage just sat on cardboard until their periods were over. They might not get food and they certainly weren’t able to go to school—one of the aspects the organization hopes to change by offering the reusable period products. In 2018-19, 23% of girls attending school in Nigeria missed school within the last year due to their period, according to the World Health Organization and Unicef. Forty-eight percent of menstruating students in Scotland said there was a lack of availability for free period products.
"It’s never talked about that it’s an issue for girls who don’t have the proper access to menstrual products pretty much around the world."
— Angela LeComte
LeComte’s introduction to the organization began at the virtual FCCLA national conference over the summer where she learned about students’ work in New Jersey. The kits include 8 reusable pads, 2 pairs of undergarments, 2 undergarment shields, a washcloth, soap and a bag, according to LeComte and WDC FCCLA advisor Cindi Koll. She hopes to make 20 kits.
“It’s kind of cool to see that even in this situation (the pandemic) that students can be motivated and they can learn, and now this will have some long-term benefits for her as we work on this project,” Koll said.
Days for Girls has clubs throughout the area, including Verndale, Menahga and Baxter. Verndale club leader Carol Osborn met with LeComte and provided a serger as well as fabric. The pads and waterproof shields are meant to last 6-7 years with durable flannel. The shields are placed in the undergarment and liners are placed into the shield.
“It’s never talked about that it’s an issue for girls who don’t have the proper access to menstrual products pretty much around the world,” LeComte said.
The lack of access is in the developing world and developed countries, including the United States. In a 2019 Obstetrics & Gynecology study, 64% of 183 women surveyed in St. Louis, Missouri said they could not afford period products in the previous year.
The kits will eventually be personally delivered by the organization rather than sent in the mail to avoid corrupt government officials from selling the kits, as Koll said. Kits go to Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, Europe and Australia.
LeComte will also focus on educating fellow students more about menstrual health. Twenty-seven percent of schoolgirls in Bhutan said teachers are their main resource on menstruation information, according to WHO and Unicef. Local leaders in various countries are also part of the organization teaching community members about menstrual health and starting a business to sell the products.
The project comes as part of FCCLA’s new program “StandUp,” which replaces the “Stop the Violence” program since not all issues students can advocate for include violence, according to Koll. Each StandUp project will assess a need, involve education for the student and others and advocacy for the issue.
“She’s (LeComte) learning a whole lot about not just sewing and feminine hygiene products but political issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, and many of these countries don’t have waste disposal systems and so it has to be reusable for them,” Koll said.
The reusability factor of the feminine hygiene products could also become more popular in America, as Koll said.
“Because our younger generation is more in tune with what’s going on with our environment, because they have a long time to be here, I think it’s something that may catch on,” Koll said.
The project could also create additional conversations on health issues such as sales tax on feminine hygiene products, as Koll said. The “tampon tax” has become a highly discussed issue in recent years as states consider removing the tax; Minnesota does not have a “tampon tax.” In November 2020, Scotland passed a law for free period products, the first country to do so.
“It’s something that we just probably don’t think of in our day to day existence, we think things are bad for us right here and now but it does help … keep some perspective,” Koll said about the Days for Girls kits.
FCCLA will also be having a Sock Drive when students return to in-person or hybrid learning; the socks go to the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre, which supports veterans.
Visit the Days for Girls website to learn more about the organization and the lack of access to menstrual products for girls and women around the world.
The full “Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools” 2020 report is available on the Unicef website.