She's Fighting to End Menstruation Stigmas Around the World
For too many people with periods, feminine hygiene products continue to be unaffordable, unfairly taxed, and inaccessible. Many also lack access to basic needs, like a toilet or safe disposal areas. In an effort to change this, Celeste Mergens created Days for Girls International.
Mergens tells CircleAround that her organization is “an award-winning NGO that works to shatter stigma and limitations associated with menstruation for improved health, education, and livelihood outcomes.”
Mergens created Days for Girls in 2008 while working with a foundation in Kenya, assisting an overpopulated orphanage on the outskirts of Nairobi. When it came to the menstrual-health practices in the orphanage, says Mergens, “girls were sitting on cardboard in their rooms for several days each month, often going without food unless someone would bring it to them.”
She realized simply introducing disposable pads would not be enough as the girls were lacking proper and safe sanitation and disposal methods. To solve the issue, Mergens had to think beyond conventional Western approaches to feminine hygiene products.
Mergens and her team developed a durable, washable menstruation pad. The reusable pads are provided in kits to equip recipients with the products they need and to help de-stigmatize menstruation in their communities.
“What would eventually become clear was just how much of a difference that menstrual-health solutions make in assisting women and girls to break the cycle of poverty and live lives of dignity,” Mergens tells CircleAround. The kits were created using extensive feedback, designed to meet cultural and environmental conditions in communities throughout the world.
Kits contain a DfG POD (Portable Object of Dignity), with one waterproof shield and two absorbent liners. According to Mergens, these PODs have since become a tool for women as “they can be sold at an affordable price point, and women can add locally sourced components in the future.”
But most importantly, the supplies don’t resemble diaper-like disposable pads found in American drug stores. “The bright colors camouflage staining,” Mergens explains. “The absorbent liners unfold to look like a washcloth, which allows women to wash and dry them outside in the sun without causing embarrassment.” The deluxe kit includes care instructions, shields, liners, clean underwear, storage, washing bags, soap, and a washcloth.
Six Continents, One Goal
To further end the stigma around menstruation, Mergens also supports health-education initiatives. She and her team have created a curriculum that is included with each kit distribution, led by peer educators. These educators can also become DfG micro-enterprise leaders in their community, ensuring the safe distribution of the products to those who need them most, while also growing financially independent.
To date, Days for Girls has reached more than 2.1 million women and girls in 144 countries “with quality, sustainable menstrual-care solutions, and health education.” But although her organization is running smoothly on six continents, she’s still modest about its beginnings and her involvement in the process.
“I didn't plan on Days for Girls,” Mergens says. “It found me….I had been doing nonprofit work for years but as a volunteer. A friend's family-foundation work brought me to Kenya, where I learned about period poverty and stepped up to answer the need before I even realized that it was a global issue.”
“I continue to be a student of global issues, organizational development, and more. I never planned to be a global leader. I just show up, pay attention, and keep working to equal the needs of the organization and mission that I'm so grateful to be part of.”