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Student’s simple idea aims to relieve ‘monthly curse’ for women and girls in PNG

A simple idea, to help women and girls in Papua New Guinea manage menstruation with dignity has led to its Deakin University student developer, Jac Torres Gomez, creating a prototype, bi-lingual resource, a global campaign and being named 2012 Social Entrepreneur of the Year .

Ms Torres Gomez’s idea for a sanitary pad which could be self manufactured, be reused and made from second-hand clothing was developed and used as the basis as her major report for the Professional Practice Unit of the Master of International and Community Development degree.

“Basically my report looked at the barriers facing women in PNG due to menstruation and women’s experiences in other developing countries and asked if small scale, labour intensive, energy efficient, environmentally sound and locally controlled technology (AT) would be a solution,” Jac explained.

This work was supported by a global campaign Jac co-founded and currently manages called Crimson Campaign that works to empower communities to understand and address barriers facing women and girls globally due to menstruation.

“It wasn’t until I travelled to PNG to research this issue for the thesis and to develop a pad design and prototype that I truly connected practically with the issue and the women and girls living there,” Jac said.

“I realised that this was not just a problem in theory, but was also a real life issue impacting not just on their lives but also their ability to achieve their potential and positively contribute to community and family life.

“Although I launched Crimson Campaign on March 8, 2011, travelling to PNG was really was my ‘ahhh’ moment for understanding the importance of addressing this issue, and what has truly motivated me to continue pioneering in this space since then. ”

Jac said her research had found many school-aged girls did not attend school while menstruating due to the lack of access to clean water, toilets and privacy to change sanitary products in rural and remote areas.

“Many rural and urban women and girls in PNG live at or below the poverty line, and for them imported disposable sanitary products in PNG are prohibitively expensive and inaccessible,” she said.

“There are also more than 700 cultural groups that make up PNG’s population, many in remote areas, and many have traditions and taboos about menstruating women and girls and their menstrual blood.

“While not wishing to undermine deep traditions such as women’s business in PNG, she said that solutions were needed to address the barriers to empowerment and community development facing women and girls.

“That said, women and girls in rural and remote areas develop local solutions to manage menstruation, such as using leaves or grasses, however these products carry a risk of infection and negative health consequences.”

Jac said being able to speak openly to her lecturers Dr Phil Connors and Dr Max Kelly during her report allowed her the scope to analyse the issue but also discover at a personal level that menstruation is not such a simple thing to speak about, even in the context of Australia and community development.

“I needed to break down my own barriers of speaking about this taboo in order to speak confidently to International Development practitioners who are open to these discussions such as Phil and Max,” she said.

Jac said the sanitary pad and leaflet which explains how to make it have been well received by different groups of women including women from a local women’s prison outside of Port Moresby.

“It has now been translated into Tok Pigeon based on requests to make it more accessible to all women in the country,” she said.

“Other individuals and community groups in Australia have also shown interest in the resource, with one teacher from rural NSW taking the resource to PNG herself in April and working with different rural communities to share the idea.”

Jac said there had been a lot of “oh but Jac, surely that is not a problem”.

“It is not that I feel I need to make it a problem, but the facts show, women and girls in PNG are not having healthy conversations about their needs and as a result are not able to reach their full potential.

“I feel blessed to be able to bring these conversations to the forefront of society through work such as the purse pad project, my studies in international and community development at Deakin and through Crimson Campaign.”

Click here for information about the Crimson Campaign and download a free copy of the purse pad resource.

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