/ 1 November 2013

Giving girls the freedom of confidence

Giving Girls The Freedom Of Confidence
Giving girls the freedom of confidence (Photo Archive)

Sandra Millar’s organisation, Dignity Dreams, has one overarching goal: to help women regain the dignity that poverty has denied them, by giving them access to safe and hygienic sanitary products.

There are about 2.1-million young women between the ages of 12 and 18 who resort to using old clothes, rags, newspapers, leaves, bark and grass each month because they cannot afford sanitary towels.

Not only does this often result in girls missing about five days of school a month — that’s nearly two months of missed school a year — but it affects the mobility and productivity of women of all ages from poorer communities.

Mothers, working women, elderly ladies and students all have their lives limited each month thanks to a lack of support and provision during their menstrual cycle.

“I cannot imagine a girl or woman not being able to afford sanitary towels. I cannot imagine the humiliation of having to use socks, rags and toilet paper during menstruation,” says Millar.

“It is no good just being horrified by this situation, the problem must be solved.”

Dignity Dreams has created reusable sanitary pads that allow girls to wash and re-use them, rather than having to buy new items every month.

These pads are inexpensive and environmentally friendly, and have been created by six unskilled, previously disadvantaged women overseen by one seamstress.

“In July this year we successfully rolled out Dignity Dreams in Graskop, under the auspices of Child Welfare,” says Millar.

“Although we were aware of the impact on schoolgirls who have no sanitary towels, we never realised that entire households and communities were affected.”

Through dialogues with young girls, they discovered that many were embarrassed to chat to mothers or caregivers about the changes happening to their bodies and that they could not confidently participate in sports or school.

Elderly and frail women suffered because many old age homes and hospices could not afford the cost of sanitary wear and, with the cost of R37.50 a month on average per woman for these products, women with low incomes couldn’t afford them.

Millar’s organisation targets specific areas in consultation with community leaders and visits the sites to show how the packs are to be used.

Rural areas without running water are not excluded, because the products can be cleaned with a minimum fuss. There are three different types of packs that vary in price from R110 to R60 and include instructions, waterproof shields, panties and flannel liners, giving women a chance at freedom from the constraints imposed by poverty and their menstruation.

“Sandra is committed to making a difference and I was so impressed by her passion to find a solution for young women whose lives are completely disrupted by their monthly cycle,” says Simone Rawlings from Investec Bank, who nominated Millar for a Drivers of Change award.

“The project will ensure that many young women who would usually not attend school for a week can do so without feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable.”

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.