Dignity Period is a not-for-profit organization based in St. Louis, MO, whose mission is to keep Ethiopian girls in school by ensuring that they have access to quality menstrual hygiene products. Their goal is dignity for girls in Ethiopia – period.
Menstruation is not a topic that is openly discussed in Ethiopia. As a result, girls often do not understand what it is or how to deal with it, and myths about menstruation abound. Many girls are surprised by their first period, and often feel terrified that something is wrong with them. Due to widely held negative beliefs about periods, they also often feel ashamed of this natural process and do not seek help or support.
To compound the problem, many girls stay home from school when on their periods – often at the encouragement of their parents, teachers, and peers – to avoid embarrassing accidents. Our research indicates that up to a third of girls have at least one parent who believes they should stay home from school when menstruating. This causes them to fall behind in their studies and, in some cases, to drop out of school.
Dignity Period funds the local production of reusable sanitary pads and the distribution of these pads throughout schools in the Tigray and Afar regions of Ethiopia. Along with the pads, they provide culturally relevant education about menstruation and menstrual hygiene in local languages to both girls and boys in school. This multifaceted approach helps girls stay bold in school – even on their periods.
Dignity Period was founded by St. Louis residents Helen and Lewis Wall. In 2014, the couple lived in Mekelle, Ethiopia while Dr. Lewis Wall spent eight months as a Fulbright Scholar in Ethiopia at the College of Health Sciences, Mekelle University, working to improve residency education in obstetrics and gynecology. During their time in Mekelle, they became familiar with the work and story of Freweini Mebrahtu, founder of Mariam Seba Sanitary Pad Factory. The challenge of menstrual hygiene in Ethiopia stood out as a problem that can and should be addressed with a comprehensive solution including ethnographic research, education, and providing affordable, local sanitary products. He worked with colleagues at Mekelle University and Freweini at Mariam Seba to work out a partnership, and Dignity Period was born.
On April 14, Dignity Period is holding their 4th annual Spring Gala at the Marriott St. Louis West. The event will be hosted by on-air TV and radio personality Julie Tristan and will include a cocktail reception, dinner, and cirque-style entertainment from The Great Dubois, Masters of Variety.
Through a short program, attendees will learn about the work from Dignity Period’s Ethiopian partners. They will hear from Freweini Mebrahtu, the founder of the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory – an Ethiopian, women-run and operated business that produces Dignity Period’s reusable sanitary pads. Mekelle University Menstrual Dignity Project/School of Health and Sciences will talk about Dignity Period’s research and highlight successes in the work to distribute pads and education to remote, rural schools.
This not-to-be-missed evening begins at 6 pm and will continue until 10. There will be a silent and live auction including the beautiful photography of Joni Kabana, handmade leather goods from Ethiopian producer Parker Clay, as well as a market where you can purchase authentic, Ethiopian goods.
For more information, visit DignityPeriod.org/events.