Global Development Institute Blog

Our former student Elisa Soto is putting her Master’s dissertation into practice in her home country, Mexico, to address gender inequalities in education.

During her studies at the University, Elisa decided to undertake a dissertation analysing India’s Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) policy intervention, her evaluation concluded that MHM can improve girls’ educational outcomes if viewed within a social justice framework.

While many advancements have been achieved in terms of school enrolment globally, gender disparities still persist. A report from UNESCO contemplates that 1 out of 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school due to menstruation. Institutions such as the World Bank estimates this to be around 20 percent of the school year missed by girls because of menstruation. In India, the increasing risk of school dropout was estimated to be of about 113 million adolescent girls a cause of menarche (girls’ first period). Likewise, UNICEF Mexico reports that 43 percent of female students with menstrual periods prefer not to go to school during their period and 42 percent of girls claimed missing school for the same reason. For this reason, researchers, policymakers and international institutions have pointed to menstruation as an element to understand such gender disparities in schooling. As a result, a few countries like India have taken the initiative to try to solve this problem by proclaiming Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) on their national agenda. MHM has even been singled out by the World Bank Group as a key initiative to address barriers to girls’ education.

After her Master’s research findings, Elisa did not want to leave her home country behind in MHM efforts and co-founded a non-profit organization called Organización para Chicas OPC (Organisation for Girls) in Mexico, along with a brilliant team. OPC´s mission is to address issues of gender inequalities and equity mainly through research, reforms and international development projects.

The organisation recently won a national competition by Kybernus (a talent incubator which brings together many young entrepreneurs from all over Mexico). After outcompeting more than 170 social projects, they partnered on a project with a Mexican menstrual cup brand called LANI. The project was divided in two phases: First, for every LANI menstrual cup sold, another was donated to a woman in the San Luis Potosí state prison (who do not normally have easy access to menstrual supplies). Second, OPC gave workshops to women in jail, teaching them about menstruation, menstrual cups and how to make their own menstrual pads sewn from cloth. They plan to trademark the handmade menstrual pads and for each sale of those pads, inmates will be given a percentage to earn income. Similarly, LANI and OPC recently partnered to donate more than 200 menstrual cups to underserved areas of Mexico followed by workshops to learn about menstruation. OPC will continue to provide workshops, conferences and talks about menstrual health in order to remove stigmas and taboos.

OPC has also succeeded in collaboration with other organisations launching an initiative to the Mexican Congress to reform the Education Law at the local level (in the state of San Luis Potosi) which is in the process of discussion to be voted in favour. Her dissertation work, with the help of her invaluable supervisor, Nicola Banks, is the basis of this initiative. The initiative seeks to make the law more inclusive with a gender perspective. A gender perspective means that MHM education should be included in all public schools (including boys in the discussion), whilst inclusive refers to considering all menstruating people when providing education about MHM (not just girls and women, but also the LGBTQI community).

The initiative will soon be under discussion in the Mexican Congress for voting. We’ll be supporting our former student initiative through the campaign #MyPeriodMyRight.

Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.