Starbucks Foundation Funding Facilitates Lasting MH Impact
In 2008, Mt.Elgon, a Kenyan district near the border of Uganda, experienced a devastating and prolonged civil political conflict that resulted in approximately 200,000 people – nearly the entire population of Mt. Elgon – being displaced from their homes. Hundreds of people, particularly men, were killed in this clash, leaving many women widowed and traumatized.
Many issues that Mt. Elgon women – including these widows – face today stem from a lack of sustainable means to manage their menstruation. In 2019, Days for Girls International (DfG), in partnership with Village Enterprise and supported by a grant from The Starbucks Foundation, co-launched two social enterprises in the Mt. Elgon region with the mission to improve menstrual health (MH) for girls and women in the community. By the end of the first phase of the project, 5,000 girls will be reached with sustainable menstrual supplies and education, giving them the tools and information they need to manage their menstruation with dignity.
In Mt. Elgon, three-quarters of the women in the enterprises are widows as a result of the conflict, but now they are regaining stability and independence through their MH work. These enterprises are not only changing local perceptions around menstruation, but they are founding societal and economic norms that will have a positive and profound impact for generations.
Freedom Through Financial Stability
Armed with their own resources, the women now have economic muscle: with increased financial independence and security stemming from their work at the enterprises, they have gained more power and influence in their community. Additionally, these women contribute to the positive economic growth and development of their communities and are able to leverage the skills they developed through DfG’s program to reach local leaders and create awareness of MH needs.
Economic independence yields greater personal freedoms as well. For example, the enterprise women are able to pay their children’s school fees, allowing them to get an education and uplift their families and community, proving that sustainable MH solutions have ripple effects not only throughout communities but across generations.
“Finally we do not have to depend on anyone or beg anyone because through the process of the Enterprise, we are able to comfortably afford our children’s school fees . . . and put food on the table.”
– Enterprise Woman
A Community United in Purpose
Menstrual health is a uniting factor because it affects girls of every community, tribe and ethnicity. As Mt. Elgon learned more about MH and worked to change unhealthy menstrual practices and myths, the people became united in purpose, paving the way for greater unity in a region previously gripped by conflict. It is this individual and communal sense of ownership that makes these women committed to sewing quality products for all those in their region.
“I really didn’t think that menstrual health would be one thing that would unite the Mt. Elgon community because first of all menstrual health is a taboo, or was a taboo . . . and just the thought that menstrual health being a uniting factor despite the differences in the community [is] something to be lauded for and was unforeseen.”
– Key Influencer Woman
Thought Leaders in Action
Women are now key decision-makers in the community and are seen as thought leaders. They are called into churches and community meetings to consult and educate. Even local chiefs recognize these women as valuable. Using their advocacy skills, the women recruit local stakeholders and leaders, and they sit at tables from which they were originally excluded. Now, these women shine as influential contributors and leaders in their community. For example, one of the enterprise leaders was recognized during the most recent Mashujaa (Heroes/Heroines) Day for her exemplary advocacy work in the community to end FGM in the Mt. Elgon region.
“Finally we have a product that is home-grown, led by women in the community. Finally, there is a product that is used [by] and helps women in our communities [and] is produced by the women in our communities. . . . It has given the women in Mt. Elgon a voice.”
– A Mt. Elgon Chief
The Way Forward
Thanks to The Starbucks Foundation’s funding, MH education and enterprises are continuing in the region. Looking ahead, Mt. Elgon women are poised to take the lead and make a strong and lasting difference not only in their own lives but in the lives of their families and all those with whom they work.
Follow Days for Girls on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) to learn more about our ongoing work with The Starbucks Foundation in Mt. Elgon and to see the other work we are doing around the world.