Eliminating menstruation myths in Sierra Leone

We’re so proud of this beauty!

LaunchPad was a phenomenal community based program, designed to increase access to affordable and hygienic sanitary products for women and girls.

Through community education on menstrual health and hygiene management, the program aimed to tackle period taboos and break down barriers faced by women and girls in their everyday lives. LaunchPad was a tool to help empower women and girls, with community members taking control of the program, providing a source of income and the opportunity and ability to instigate and lead change within their communities.

Why LaunchPad?

In Sierra Leone, menstruation and the topic of periods, is taboo. 

This has led to the dangerous spread of misinformation; as well placing girls at increased risk of early marriage, or being reprimanded by parents who believe menstruation is a sign of sexual activity. 

These misunderstandings about periods often result in unhealthy and unsupportive home and school environments for girls and women.

Managing periods and menstrual health becomes difficult and prevents girls from both attending and succeeding in school. 

Sanitary products are difficult to access and relatively expensive, forcing girls and women to use basic (and often unhygienic) items, like scraps of fabric. These make-do methods can be ineffective and messy, with girls choosing to stay home from school rather than risk accidents in the classroom. With little or no access to clean water, fabric scraps are washed in open water sources full of bacteria, and dried out of sight and indoors (where it’s hot and humid) because of cultural taboos around period blood. This means girls and women are wearing damp cloth – a breeding ground for disease, painful rashes, sores and infection. 

Can you imagine facing your period each month in these conditions? Menstrual health and hygiene is critical to the empowerment of girls and women, for not only healthy and safe lives, but informed and fulfilling ones too.

LaunchPad participants visit surrounding communities, Tonkolili, Sierra Leone. 

Doing it on their own

At One Girl, we are all about empowering women through access to information and education, so that they are able to advocate for both themselves and others within their communities. And this is what we did through LaunchPad! 

Girls and women became their very own champions. Beyond learning about the ins and outs of menstrual health and hygiene for themselves, they were supported to go door-to-door in their communities and public spaces (like parks and markets) and travel to neighbouring communities to share their knowledge and experiences gained through LaunchPad. Each participant played a crucial role in spreading useful, practical and incredibly necessary information to girls, boys, women and men – changing both attitudes and approaches to periods!

Periods in the community

LaunchPad aimed to increase the health and wellbeing of girls and women within communities – and here’s the proof! 2019 saw some pretty incredible impacts:

  • 85% of profits from group savings went back into children’s education
  • Evidence of social shifts – men in the community say they are now able to talk about menstruation and periods, and there is a growing sense that men can, and should, be comfortable buying pads to support their wives and daughters, with 85% of group members having at some point sold pads to men.
  • Older people engaged with program participants and the information on offer, and were found to be willing to change their pre-existing attitudes (such as pads causing women to become infertile)
  • Through LaunchPad training and with increased access to sanitary products, girls don’t feel like they had to stay home from school whilst menstruating
  • Savings groups used the money to dispense essential loans, supporting women and their families to access emergency medical care, as well as more routine expenses like school supplies for their children and repairs to community resources like roads.