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Q&A: Menstrual health charity Days for Girls NZ

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

We were delighted recently when Family Planning’s national office received a box full of colourful reusable menstrual pads, to be sent out to some of our highest-need clinics for clients. The box was sent by the New Zealand chapter of Days for Girls, an international charity that supplies reusable menstrual pads and breast feeding pads to people in need. Each of the menstrual pad kits were sewed by volunteers and include five reusable pads and a drawstring bag. We spoke to Helen Griffin, who runs Days for Girls NZ from Palmerston North, about the work they do to address period poverty.

Tell us about Days for Girls.

It started in America in 2008 by a woman called Celeste Mergens. She was involved in an orphanage in Kenya and asked one day what they did when girls had their periods. She was told that they just sit on a piece of cardboard on their bunk, so that’s what they did every month for however many days – five or a week or whatever. Obviously they missed out on schooling, so she decided she needed to do something about it, so that’s how it started. We started in New Zealand in 2011 and it’s just grown from that.

Each kit comes with several reusable pads.

Who started the New Zealand chapter of Days for Girls?

Myself and my daughter. I read an article that mentioned Days for Girls, so I Googled it and I said to my daughter – who was 18 at the time – ‘This is something you’d be interested in’, and she looked at it and she said we could sew for them. I said I didn’t think there was a New Zealand organisation, and in any case I emailed them and asked if there was a group in New Zealand and they said, ‘No, but we’d love it if someone started one’. My daughter said ‘We could do that!’. So we did.

Was it just you and your daughter sewing initially?

No. We started the charity with another friend; there were three of us on the trust board and word got around. The first woman who ever did any sewing for us was at the time living in Christchurch. It grew from that. A lot of patch workers do it because it’s quite precise and they understand the fabrics and they understand the mechanics of it. Then we started to get teams starting up, like the Auckland team was the first one. They’re still going strong and now there is about 15-20 teams in New Zealand as well as other groups and individuals.

Who do you make the kits for?

Most of them go overseas. About 20-25 percent have gone to New Zealanders typically. This year it’s different. We’ve had a lot of orders from within New Zealand and obviously people have not been taking kits overseas, though we have managed to put nearly 2000 in two different containers – one to Vanuatu and one to Fiji. They go to organisations that will then distribute them. What’s really important too, is there is an education session held with the distribution of the kits because people often know nothing. Distributors can do the course online, so they can just go to the Days for Girls website and it’s called Ambassador of Women’s Health Training, and then they can give the education when they give out the kits. That’s one thing we insist that they do when they’re going overseas.

Although the name of the organisation is Days for Girls, how are you supporting people who get their periods who don’t identify as female?

I know that one of the Days for Girls teams in the US got asked for some gender-neutral kits, so I diligently made some up here in case anyone ever asks, so I’m ready! If you need any gender neutral ones I’ve got them. We tend to use very pretty fabrics, and it’s very girly because often the girls have nothing, it’s their one personal possession. We try and make them really attractive and that is often the more feminine fabrics. They tend to be coloured so they hide the stains, so the gender-neutral kits that I made have black or dark colours. With the bags I didn’t put the Days for Girls logo on the front, I just left them blank.

Why do you think there has been more demand in New Zealand this year?

I’m assuming that Covid-19 has affected people’s incomes so there’ll be more people struggling. It’s really hard to know. We got contacted by [two Wellington schools], but whether that is coincidence or whether people are talking about it more, I don’t know. I’m just wondering if people are talking now and talking about the poverty more and people losing their jobs, so I suspect it is Covid-related and income-related.

How can people support Days for Girls in New Zealand?

We’re a registered charitable trust so we need money to purchase fabrics. We’re all volunteers – I’m a volunteer – but obviously we go through a lot of fabric. If they sew or they have a fabric stash that they want to get rid of… I also think even just talking about it is actually a good thing. Talking about it can actually break that taboo. Just knowing there is something available and letting other people know is really important.

Thank you to Helen and the Days for Girls volunteers for supporting Family Planning and the work we do to increase awareness of and access to menstrual products. If you would like a reusable menstrual pad kit, we have a limited number available for clients at our Whangarei, Papakura, Manukau, Tauranga, Gisborne, Whanganui and Porirua clinics.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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