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IMHER: New Website Facilitates Information Sharing Among Innovators in Global Menstrual Health

Website Showcases Female Entrepreneurship and Improves Efficiency for Accessing Materials

April 2, 2019 – When girls around the world start to menstruate, their first period too often produces fear and worry due to lack of education about what is happening to them. Discussing how their bodies are changing may be difficult or even forbidden due to stigma and in some cultures, strong taboos, presenting unique challenges for girls in many developing countries. In addition, many girls wish that they could buy menstrual products to help them feel more confident during their periods but cannot afford to buy them. In recent years, an increasing number of innovators – most of them female themselves – have been emerging to address these needs. Yet, many encounter challenges finding relevant information as they look to do so. A new website developed at Dartmouth, IMHER —  the International Menstrual Health Entrepreneurship Roundup—provides a free, one-stop source of information about global menstrual health.

Launched today, IMHER acts as a global hub, providing new educators, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations with a central place where they can tap into existing educational resources and connect with other in-country and global organizations already established in menstrual health, as they work to address challenges in their local communities.

“It is local entrepreneurs with knowledge of their area’s needs who can best get this work done in their communities,” said Deborah Jordan Brooks, IMHER project director and an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. “What this resource does is find and share relevant information on menstrual health, while also helping the many people working in this space find and learn from each other.”

Although global awareness of the issue is increasing, such as through the recent Oscar-winning Netflix documentary, Period. End of Sentence,on the need for menstrual products in India, there are still very few places where one can access high-quality information about the topic. Academic research findings tend to be hidden behind publisher “paywalls” and conferences on menstrual health are often held out-of-country making such resources unaffordable. Furthermore, small nonprofit organizations do not have research teams or time to gather information about what other organizations have done, best practices or which educational resources already exist. 

Brooks encountered this information gap while working with Grace Ningejeje, an entrepreneur conducting work in this area, who came to the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth in 2017 as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of the U.S. State Department’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Ningejeje is the founder of the Burundi-based nonprofit organization, Uplifting the Girl Child and author of Break the Taboo on Menstrual Health. As part of her work through the YALI program, Ningejeje researched the options for producing high-quality, low cost pads in Burundi. 

In previous years, two other Dartmouth Mandela Washington Fellows, who produce menstrual pads in their home countries, also conducted research on this topic: Hyasintha Ntuyeko of Kasole Secrets in Tanzania and Lucy Athieno of Eco-Pads in Uganda.

With research interests that focus on female empowerment issues, Brooks worked with Ningejeje to try to find what had worked elsewhere. After encountering misinformation online about menstrual health and realizing that many entrepreneurs entering this space often need to obtain the same information when they start out, Brooks came up with the idea of creating a website that consolidates educational resources on global menstrual health.

“While IMHER can help to make accurate information more accessible, it is female entrepreneurs like Ningejeje who are at the center of change, creating solutions to help address issues affecting the health and well-being of girls and women,” added Brooks.

Under the Dickey Center for International Understanding, Brooks established the Dartmouth Global Girls Forward Lab, a team of undergraduate students focused on global development issues pertaining to women, to compile content featured in IMHER. Brooks also serves as the faculty coordinator of the gender pillar at the Dickey Center.

“By creating the IMHER website, our Dartmouth Global Girls Forward Lab at the Dickey Center has produced something that has the potential to make a real difference in empowering women in the developing world. This is not a project just about making menstrual products more widely available. It’s a project that aims to promote human dignity, and that’s a big deal,” said Daniel Benjamin, the Normal E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth. “I’m also incredibly pleased to see another collaboration between Dartmouth faculty and students and alums of the Young African Leaders Initiative who were here on campus,” he added.

IMHER AS A RESOURCE:

A living repository on menstrual health, IMHER features links to organizations and free resources from around the world on menstrual education and healthy self-care through several searchable databases, including:

  • Organizations Engaging in Menstrual Education and Menstrual Products: This database includes organizations for which menstrual education is a core component of their work and organizations that either produce or distribute products, focusing on low-income populations and serving countries around the globe.
  • Trainer Resources: This database includes online resources for educators and trainers conducting informational sessions about menstrual health. The resources address a range of topics such as how to make pads or how to organize a community project to make reusable pads. 
  • Learner Resources: This database includes materials mainly for kids, including girls, such as information on your first period.
  • Digital Storytelling Resources: This database provides links to documentaries about menstrual health, including first-person stories in which girls discuss how they are affected by a lack of access to menstrual products.

IMHER focuses on small to mid-sized entrepreneurs and organizations, most of which are led by women, and which are focused on addressing the needs of low-income communities. The website also plans to roll out a blog and other resources in the future.

IMHER encourages users to suggest organizations, educational resources and documentaries/digital stories to add to their database and provide feedback about the website, allowing readers to help build part of the information base that others in the field can then use.

Brooks is available for comment at: Deborah.J.Brooks@dartmouth.edu.