When Mormon women party in Shanghai, the world becomes a better place. Especially parts of the world like Africa where women face roadblocks to education due to lack of feminine hygiene supplies. It may sound like an unusual topic for a party, but the bustling, intense party of Mormon women that I crashed yesterday was actually an inspiring service project in collaboration with Days for Girls International. The many hours of selfless labor by these expat women in assembling and sewing kits of washable feminine hygiene products will advance education and self-reliance of women in Africa by dramatically reduce absenteeism in school and helping women become more independent and free from exploitation.
Women without education in many parts of the world are much more likely to end up being exploited by men. Days for Girls provides not just kits for coping with physical needs, but provides encouragement and information to girls to stand up for themselves and to recognize and flee from abuse. It gives them the power to say no and be free. In fact, part of the inspiration for Days for Girls came when some great women recognized the need to help African girls free themselves from exploitation linked to the challenge of feminine hygiene:
The girls were radiant when we shared what we had come with. 500 young women in the slums near Kibera, Kenya received DFGI kits and learned about health, hygiene and safety. According to one report from the World Health Organization 74% of African girls are sexually exploited before age 12, so we discussed not only hygiene and how to use kits, but also about their worth and encouragement to stand up for each other and against abuse. Nicole* (Not her real name to protect her identity) was one who came forward with huge gratitude. She explained that many of the girls were exploited in exchange for hygiene before we came. She said if they wanted to leave their rooms or attend class, they had to agree to have “relations” with the director of their school who would only offer them funds for hygiene if they did. Her testimony was not alone. Many others confirmed her story. When we realized how great the ramifications are for those that go without – and the power a simple solution has, we knew we had to help more. That was the day our program was born. [Source: “Their Own Stories,” Daysforgirls.org.]
The impact of Days for Girls is far more than just economic. A simple gift with much needed encouragement and teaching can break a variety of chains that enslave women.
So much depends on education. Education is a liberating force, but available education doesn’t help much unless students can attend school. And to receive the economic benefits of education, they need to attend, pass exams, and graduate. For some women, menstruation means not just missing school, but lengthy forced isolation from home and society. Simple products can free them and keep them in school or at work.
Interestingly, the disposable feminine care products that I used to work with during some of my many years at Kimberly-Clark Corporation and that I still work with to some degree here in China may not be the best solution for some parts of the world, even if provided for free. These products, unfortunately, can cause plumbing problems where there is plumbing, or serious pollution when used products are discarded improperly in ditches, canals, etc. When they are purchased, there is a tendency for low-income users to use a single product far too long, which can result in poor performance and even some health issues. For millions seeking to rise from poverty, reusable, washable products appear to be a sound, practical solution. Such products are included in the kits made by hand by Days for Girls volunteers, like the large group of women in Shanghai yesterday who spent one of the year’s most beautiful Saturdays in humble service to liberate girls in Africa.
It was a very active and busy party, also known as a Women’s Conference, organized by the District Relief Society Presidency of the Shanghai International District of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a lot of help from a wonderful advocate of Days for Girls in Shanghai. Women not just from Shanghai but also from Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and other areas came, some coming the night before and staying overnight or for the weekend to be able to participate in service as well as learning in some classes also held throughout the day. I think there were also a few non-LDS friends (also foreign passport holders only, as required for our religious activities).
For the record, the activity was held in careful compliance with regulations from the government in China.
Of course, there are written regulations and then there are the sometimes more important unwritten rules, one of which seems to be that all major activities in China need to include delicious food. Check! The professionally made pies were awesome, and I also was pleased to be handed a tasty Subway sandwich when I arrived, quite hungry (after having skipped lunch while returning that day from a business trip on beautiful Hainan Island, choosing not to eat the food on my flight). No, there was not much in the way of Chinese food this time, unless cheesecake or apple pie actually has Chinese origins. Given the riches of China’s ancient inventions in some many areas, I wouldn’t be completely surprised.
Many thanks to the kind women of the Shanghai International District and their friends for their service. And while we do have openings for you here in the branches of Shanghai, you don’t have to move to China to get involved in the same worthy cause. You can actually just go right over to Daysforgirls.org and make a donation, as my wife and I did today, or perhaps support related projects in your neighborhood.
I wasn’t supposed to even be in town to be able to drop in on this event, but thanks to an
unexpected incident that required me to return early from a long
business trip, I was able to drop in for a while shortly after I landed in Shanghai. So glad I could. Had no idea this event would be so cool.
Here are some photos: