Sunday, February 1, 2009

Protecting Futures Program, Somewhere in Africa

My next class project has also turned into a blog post, inspired by this commercial:

As someone interested in Africa, at first the Protecting Futures Program sounded like a wonderful idea. And there are still parts of it that really can improve girls' lives. But getting them hooked on expensive, disposable pads isn't necessarily one of them.

Here's a quote from the website:

In some parts of the world, girls can't go to school if they have their period.
That's what happens to some girls in Southern Africa. Why? They don't have tampons or pads.

This is not entirely accurate, but it is definitely being played up for a Western audience, most of which will have a hard time understanding just what girls might be doing with their blood if they don't have tampons or pads. Most women in Africa use cloth, which they wash and use again.

The truth is, there are a myriad of reasons why girls in Africa will miss school. UNICEF cites high school fees, sexual harassment from teachers and pregnancy as just a few. It is true that girls will stay home from school during their period, but not just because they don't have tampons or pads. Many schools don't have adequate latrines or water, meaning there is no place for a girl to change whatever method of protection she might be using.

Procter & Gamble, along with donating millions of pads to "Africa" (it's annoying that in the commercial they don't specify's just some quintessential "African" village) is installing latrines and pumping in water to some of the schools they have partnered with. The hygiene part of the program seems untouchable. How could you really criticize that? But the donating of pads makes me very skeptical. Here are the questions I have, that I can't find answers to on the website:

1. If the girls receive free pads while they are students, what are they expected to do when they graduate? How will they receive or buy the pads they've grown used to?

2. Why is P&G not teaching the girls reusable methods of protection? Wouldn't that be better for the girls' economic situation and their nations' environmental situations?

3. What will P&G teach the girls to do with the waste? If they throw the pads down the latrine, the latrines P&G built will fill up faster. If they put them in the trash, they must be burned, using up firewood or kerosene- also not cheap or easy to come by.

4. Are there plans, somewhere in the vaults, that P&G has about opening up a vast market share in Somewhere, Africa? In all honesty, could the company say that it isn't looking at these girls as future customers?

I don't want to minimize the good this program could be doing. It's possible that, rather than looking to open a new market, P&G is looking to solve a problem the only way it knows how. And traditional cloth protection has it's pitfalls too. When girls can't wash or dry them in sanitary ways, they can lead to more problems.

But from an economic and environmental perspective, this is not the direction we should be moving. If anything, Western women should be looking to traditional reusable protection methods themselves. If we really care about the impact we have on this world, we have to think of everything.

Here's something to think about: In her lifetime, the average pad or tampon user will spend around $5,000 on menstrual products and throw away around 300 lbs of menstrual product waste. (EEPA, 2008)

If we export this to Africa, is it truly development?

Links to other articles:

Protecting Futures Official Website

New York Times Article on Program

Menstrual Hygiene: A Neglected Condition for the Achievement of Severall Millennium Development Goals.

Red Tent Sisters

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever used cutesy phrases to talk about your period, like “Aunt Flo is in town” or “I’m surfing the crimson tide”? Well, you’re far from being the only one. The new book Flow: the Cultural Story of Menstruation, by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, manages to be both hilarious and educational in its approach to menstrual history. Here, they list common euphemisms for periods from around the world.

* The Netherlands: “The tomato soup is overcooked”
* Brazil: “I’m with Chico”
* China: “Little Sister has come”
* many parts of Latin America: “Jenny has a red dress on”
* Australia: “I’ve got the flags out”
* Denmark: “There are Communists in the funhouse”
* Ireland: “I’m wearing a jam rag”
* England: “I’m flying the Japanese flag”
* Japan: “Little Miss Strawberry”
* France: “The English have arrived”
* Germany: “The cranberry woman is coming”
* Puerto Rico: “Did the rooster already sing?”
* South Africa: “Granny’s stuck in traffic”