This article is currently published in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/06/09/cadena-bringing-dignity-back-to-young-women/
Breaking taboos, Jewish non-profit on a mission to repair the world
By Rolene Marks
There is an old and wise African proverb that says:
“Educate a woman and you educate a village.”
Access to a good education saves and improves the lives of girls and women the world over, ultimately leading to more equitable development, stronger families, better services and better health for children. Educating young girls has a wide-ranging impact as well as long term benefits. It is often said that the future is women – and who can forget such extraordinary young women like Malala Yousafzai who literally risked her life for the right to be educated and the countless others, who dream of what so many take for granted?
The simple act of going to school every day is one that many of us don’t give a second thought to; but what of the millions of young girls living in poverty around the world who miss out on a week of school every month because of their menstrual cycle? During this time, young girls who live in areas that are either rural or poverty stricken do not go to school because of a lack of access to safe, hygienic sanitary products, and/or who are unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigmas. Many of these young girls are made to feel ashamed of their bodies and that they are dirty.
There is a connection between the confidence of women who are able to take care of their bodies and their ability to be able to take care of their education and their communities. At a time when we are having important conversations around issues of body positivity and breaking the stigma about menstruation which is a natural function, we need to draw attention to the many suffering from period poverty, that is – the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and waste management.
Young women deserve the basic human right to menstruate with dignity. Diminished capacity, even for just a week, creates barriers to opportunities. It does not just affect the ability of young girls to go to school but women to go to work.
Proud to Help. Young volunteers from the Jewish non-profit Cadena helping a community in South Africa to replace unsafe and unsanitary pit latrines.
It also impacts on physical health. Lack of access to the right feminine hygiene products may lead to greater risk of infection. In some cases, women and girls do not have access to menstrual products at all. They may resort to rags, leaves, newspaper or other makeshift items to absorb or collect menstrual blood. They may also be prone to leaks, contributing to shame or embarrassment.
Humanitarian organization, Cadena has found a solution to these issues. Cadena was formed in Mexico in 2004 with the intention of assisting with victims of natural disasters. Since then, Cadena which now has a global presence in many countries around the world, has expanded its focus to include education, the launching of rescue missions, community rebuilding programmes and many, many more important projects. Cadena also firmly believes in a philosophy of “hand to hand”, preferring direct contact with the people that they are helping. The organization became more and more concerned hearing about the situation for young women in poverty stricken areas of South Africa where a decision between buying a loaf of bread or sanitary protection for girls is a heartbreaking but common occurrence. At least 50% of young women in South Africa have seen their education disrupted during their menstrual cycle!
Project Preparation. Volunteers planning and preparing to replace and upgrade latrines in rural community.
What could Cadena do to help alleviate the situation and ensure that the education of these young women and girls is not interrupted?
The first order of the day was to break the taboos. Cadena had to educate these young girls and women that there was nothing “dirty” or horrible about a process that is a very natural part of being a woman. Sadly today, taboos around this subject are not just in struggling communities but worldwide which is why an article like this can help a lot with breaking down stigmas and taboos.
Team Work. Cadena volunteers help communities with solutions to replace deadly pit latrines and help host workshops to help alleviate period poverty.
Cadena is determined that young girls and women get their dignity back and are committed to equipping them with the tools and material necessary!
Cadena is launching workshops in the townships where women will not only be taught about health and hygiene but will also be supplied with fabric and materials to help them make their own ecological, washable and reusable menstrual pads. This not only helps to empower the women attending the workshops but helps them to share the same skills with their families and communities. These workshops have been held with great success in South America.
Helping communities also creates opportunities for other volunteers to be involved. Students from Johannesburg’s Jewish day school have been eager to help. Cadena is primarily a volunteer organization. While they cannot take anyone under the age of 18 into the field, students were really keen to help as much as possible by packing materials, helping with content creation for distribution and helping to raise awareness. After all, who better to help than their peers of the same age! It also proved a great opportunity for them to learn about the situation for many in their own country who don’t enjoy the same comforts and privileges that they do.
Making a Difference. Braving heat and dust for three weeks in a row, CADENA volunteers in South Africa went from house to house in Plot 89 to deliver PitFix by Enzyme Genie that has made such a difference in a short amount of time.
Cadena has also been instrumental in making sure that rural communities have safe, hygienic latrines following a tragic accident where a 5-year-old little boy drowned. CADENA South Africa will be using PitFix, a locally produced product by the company Enzyme-Genie that removes wastes, breaks down organic solids resulting in a dramatic reduction in smell and the presence of flies in both traditional pit latrines and septic tanks.
This Should Not Happen! The mother of a five-year-old South African boy who died after falling into a pit latrine at school breaks down in court as she described finding his body.
Every person deserves to live a life of dignity and for the truly vulnerable, including women and girls, Cadena is playing a vital role in ensuring that that their personal health is protected and that they never have to miss out on receiving their education.
The future is clearly women!