Pads for rural PNG women are made at Cairns Days for Girls centre (credit: Mandy Glass)
For most Western women, periods are just a monthly endurance managed with a range of hygiene products – a normal part of life. But for girls living in remote PNG, affordable sanitary protection is rare, and menstruation often leads to ostracism and a risk of infection. MAF’s Mandy Glass reveals how MAF is changing lives one pad at a time
This summer, MAF flew 100 ‘Days for Girls’ menstrual kits to the remote village of Eliptamin in PNG’s Sandaun Province. The kits were distributed to women and girls attending the Min Valley Baptist Union Women’s Conference, which is held once every three years.
Eliptamin in the Min Valley is surrounded by mountains and can only be reached by foot or by plane.
Eliptamin Village can only be reached by foot or by plane (credit: Mandy Glass)
Affordable sanitary protection in rural Papua New Guinea is hard to come by, making periods a monthly challenge.
The World Bank estimates that 500 million women and girls worldwide do not have access to sanitary protection.
‘I took these things for granted in my youth, but for girls and women living in the bush in Papua New Guinea, it’s far more challenging.
‘If sanitary products are in the store, they are extremely expensive. Many bush women make do with rags when it’s their time of the month, which, if not cleaned properly, can lead to infection.
‘Most bush homes have a pit-toilet, but no access to running water. To wash effectively, involves a walk to the river.’
Siobhain Cole – MAF PNG Operations and menstruation workshop facilitator
In the absence of proper protection, rags, moss or leaves are often the only means of stemming the flow of blood.
Clearly inadequate and unhygienic, such methods do not prevent leakage, creating public embarrassment. It’s also dangerous and can cause toxic shock syndrome.
In addition to the physical and health repercussions, there are psychological and societal implications too.
Women and girls are forced to drop out of school or work every month due to the added stress of inadequate toilet facilities and jeering from male peers.
Others are prevented from cooking and ostracised by their family for being ‘dirty’ or bringing bad luck, so are forced to live in huts until their monthly period is over.
Despite this naturally occurring phenomenon, periods – like in many other cultures – are still taboo in Papua New Guinea.
MAF delivers dignity and freedom in a bag
MAF – in partnership with Days for Girls and the Min Baptist Union – is fighting the stigma of menstruation, breaking down barriers and tackling gender inequality in Papua New Guinea.
MAF supports the Days for Girls reusable sanitary pads initiative by transporting hundreds of pads to remote communities and delivering educational workshops about menstrual health.
Mandy Glass & the Cairns team assemble pads for period kits (credit: Mandy Glass)
Reusable pads are made by volunteers using special materials (credit: Mandy Glass)
In April, MAF’s Mandy Glass volunteered to make and pack reusable pads for the Days for Girls Cairns centre in Australia, which are destined for remote communities in Papua New
Guinea, Timor-Leste and Bali.
The colourful bags contain pads, pants and pouches (credit: Mandy Glass)
And an importance user guide (credit: Mandy Glass)
The volunteers meet monthly to make the pads, which are part of the Days for Girls kits comprising of knickers, flannels, soap, waterproof pouches for used pads, and a guide about menstruation and how to use the kit. These items are stored in colourful drawstring bags made from locally sourced fabrics.
Once opened, the kits are a precious resource in rural PNG (credit: Mandy Glass)
The sustainable pads last for around three years.
Cheryl Williams is the team coordinator and founder of the Days for Girls centre in Cairns. Cheryl says MAF is an integral part of the process:
‘We rely on MAF to get kits out to the villages and also to educate them when they hand them out. Each kit allows a girl to continue schooling because before, she had to stay at home or live in a hut ostracised from her family because periods aren’t something that are talked about or accepted readily in a lot of the communities that we go to.’
Cheryl Williams, team coordinator and founder of the Days for Girls centre in Cairns
MAF brings isolated women together
Women are delighted with their menstrual kits (credit: Mandy Glass)
At the end of June, MAF transported 100 complete menstrual kits to the Min Valley Baptist Union Women’s Conference in Eliptamin along with workshop facilitators from MAF – Mandy Glass, Siobhain Cole and Bernie Axon.
MAF pilots like Ryan Cole fly people and cargo to the conference (credit: Mandy Glass)
Without MAF women would trek for hours or days to reach Eliptamin (credit:Mandy Glass)
MAF also flew 170 women from 12 remote communities to attend the week-long, some 500-strong conference, which aimed to spiritually empower women and provide practical tools for them to live healthier, more prosperous lives.
The big blue conference marquee accommodates over 500 women (credit: Mandy Glass)
Attendees worship God and receive teaching and practical advice (credit: Mandy Glass)
The 20 flights saved these women several hours or several days of hiking across mountainous and rugged terrain.
MAF’s Siobhain Cole gives a presentation about the menstrual cycle (credit: Mandy Glass)
Siobhain Cole gave a presentation about the menstrual cycle and shared her own experience before splitting the women and girls into small groups for a demonstration.
MAF’s Bernie Axon gives a reusable pad demonstration (credit: Mandy Glass)
Each participant received a Days for Girls bag and saw a demonstration on how to use the kit, how to assemble and care for the reusable pads and how to make them last.
Participants excitedly examine the contents of their menstrual kits (credit: Mandy Glass)
For every woman who received a kit at the conference, another ten from their village – who didn’t attend – needed period products too.
Fighting stigma and shame
Two local women, Joyce and Vero – who use the kits themselves – also facilitated the workshops, providing a local context, which helped bridge the gap between Western and
Papua New Guinean perceptions. MAF facilitator Bernie Axon explains:
‘It was great to have Joyce and Vero’s perspective. I saw one of Vero’s sessions and I changed the way I explained things after that because she could think of things that I couldn’t – like someone might use the reusable pad to wipe plates or telling people to let the pad dry out completely before you use it again.’
Papua New Guinean facilitator Vero (R in red) gives local context (credit: Mandy Glass)
All demonstrations emphasised the importance of cleanliness during their periods with an opportunity to ask personal questions in private without any shame.
Armed with new knowledge about periods, these women go on to become advocates in their own communities, fighting stigma and shame like first-time conference attendee Livina from Drolingam:
‘What you taught us, we really need in our village. I will take home the things I received to teach my children and husband. What you taught us here, I will pass on to them and other young women.’
Livina – MAF passenger and menstrual health workshop participant
Without MAF’s seven-minute flight from Telefomin (near Drolingam), it would have taken Livina about 10 hours on foot to reach Eliptamin she says:
‘If I left Telefomin about seven in the morning, I would reach Eliptamin about four or five o’clock in the afternoon, but I boarded the plane with Captain Ryan who flew us to there to be part of this huge conference. I had a great time.’
The women really enjoy the conference (credit: Mandy Glass)
‘Thank God for MAF!’
Lots of attendees showed their gratitude to MAF by bringing fresh produce to the event says Siobhain:
‘Many of them brought gifts for MAF – some financial and others gave what they could, which were vegetables. We had an enormous pile from these women who have so little but were so grateful that MAF could be their lifeline.’
Many of the attendees bring vegetables to say, ‘Thank you’ to MAF (credit: Mandy Glass)
Julie Firan – President of Min Baptist Union Women’s Association – sums up the appreciation:
‘MAF is very important transportation that we use around this area. This conference wouldn’t have happened if MAF wasn’t here.
‘It’s a very special and inspiring event that makes a difference. Everybody was excited and we all enjoyed it.
‘The Lord God provided for us, which made the conference successful. Thank God for MAF!’
MAF will deliver more Days for Girls kits to isolated girls in future (credit: Mandy Glass)
MAF will deliver more kits for other isolated women and girls in the coming months.
‘Thank you, thank you, all you pilots.
You came to our region to deliver service to us.
You don’t think about your family, friends and relatives.
You don’t think the mountains are too high.
You come to our region and deliver service to us.’