In Ethiopia menstruation is considered taboo. According to the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, the subject is generally not taught in schools and most girls never discuss it with another person. The UNICEF also reported that only 54% of Ethiopian girls are able to finish primary school.
The main cause for those who abandon it is cramps or embarrassing mishaps during their periods. Rather than risk the embarrassment of bleeding through their clothes, many girls stay home from school during their cycle each month, causing them to fall behind in their studies and often drop out of school altogether.
Born and raised in a small town in rural Ethiopia, Freweini Mebrahtu has gone through her fair share of difficulties due to the unavailability of menstrual pads. With no access to sanitary products, she coped by using rags.
After leaving to study chemical engineering in the United States, she was determined to go back to her country and help those who are in need of sanitary pads. In 2005, she designed and patented a reusable menstrual pad. She now owns Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory. The factory located in Ethiopia produces 750,000 pads a year.
More than 80% of the pads she manufactures are sold to non-governmental organizations that distribute them for free. For her work and efforts towards period equity in Ethiopia, Freweini has been named a 2019 CNN Hero.
In Ethiopia menstrual products are taxed, which is why it is not affordable for most girls leading to them quitting school. According to studies, one woman’s lifetime supply of sanitary pads is approximately 10,000- 12000.