Health and Hygiene Advocacy

What’s the Surprising Reason for Penina’s Absences from School?

What can cause a girl to miss up to 50 days of school per year?

Believe it or not, it’s because of something so small that most of us never think about it: a menstrual pad. When we met Penina, a secondary student in Rwanda, she explained that, “I can’t go to school when I don’t have pads. This causes me to miss school, which is something important to my future.”

Penina is not alone: the impact of menstruation on girls and their participation in school is significant. Half of the 500 girls and women we surveyed are missing school due to menstruation. The main reason given is that sanitary pads are too expensive. For women, 24% miss work–up to 45 days per year–for the same reason. In Rwanda, like many places in Africa, a package of pads costs more than an average day’s wages of $1.50 per day.

This is also a global issue. UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 African girls do not attend school during menstruation. Schoolgirls in Ghana and India reported that they miss school each month because of menstruation. Girls can miss up to 50 days per year because they lack access to affordable menstrual pads when they menstruate.

Those days missed can adversely affect girls’ learning potential later on in life too. Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) estimates that a lack of affordable menstrual pads costs the GDP $115 million per year in Rwanda alone.

Health and Hygiene Advocacy | Schools | Students 3_low-res

Lack of access to affordable pads is only part of the problem, we also learned that girls learn little to nothing about puberty and menstruation. Girls also lack access to clean and private toilets, soap, and clean water while menstruating at school. As a result, girls feel ashamed and embarrassed while menstruating and the cycle of shame continues.

At SHE, we believe in investment over charity: That’s why our first initiative, SHE 28, gets right to the heart of our mission.

Here’s how it works:

Banana farmers in Rwanda throw away tons of fiber every year. We provide them with equipment and training, so that they can process it and sell it to us.

We take it to our pad factory in Rwanda, where our 12 entrepreneurial staff cut it, card it, wash it, fluff it and solar dry it.

Ngoma Production Site | Factory | Collage 2

Then the banana fiber is ready to be made into menstrual pads. Our pads, which we also refer to as the LaunchPad, contain none of the chemicals found in standard commercial pads.

For this reason, our LaunchPads are at an affordable price-point to schools and given to girls who need them.

Education, health, jobs, sustainability – we think it’s straight up common sense.

Because when we get right down to it, the idea that a girl would miss school because she has her period is complete nonsense.

If that’s not ok with you either, think about joining our #smallthings campaign. Become a SHE Champion and lend your voice. Let the world know that investing in a small thing like a menstrual pad can make big changes for girls. Don’t be late, PERIOD.


About the blogger:

Connie Lewin is Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE). Connect with SHE on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and at

3 replies
  1. Kim Murstein says:

    I think it is amazing what SHE is doing for girls in Rwanda. Girls all over the world should not be ashamed of their bodies, and I’m so glad we’re helping those in need with their hygiene and wellbeing. 🙂


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