AWIU Conversations: Saturday, October 23, 2021

I AM A GIRL:  Empowering and Uplifting Women in Eastern Uganda

By Betsy Richman | December 19, 2021

Desire Kiraboo, co-founder and executive director of I AM A GIRL since its inception in Western Uganda in 2019, kicked off the AWIU Conversation with a question: “What is it about menstrual health that led to the mission and founding of I AM A GIRL?”

Over the course of the hour-long conversation, the clinical doctor with a background in nursing and crisis counseling told a story of encountering a 15-year-old girl who was fetching water at a time when she should have been in school. When asked why she was not in school, the girl replied that she had her period, and could not attend school for the duration because she did not have any menstrual pads.

Desire immediately asked herself, “How many girls are facing the same problem?” The answer, arrived at following an assessment survey conducted in the area in April 2020, only solidified I AM A GIRL’s mission; here are just three facts from that survey:

  • 74% of girls ages 13-19 missed school in the past six months because of their periods.
  • 94% of girls wanted to buy period products but couldn’t due to poverty and/or lack of resources.
  • 65% of women and 85% of men believed that menstruation is a disease.

Joining this online conversation were women who were members of American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) (Judith Jakaitis, Chapter Head, Chicago Chapter, Maggie Sabbag of the Los Angeles Chapter, Miranda Cohen, AWIU administrator and board member of I AM A GIRL, AWIU Grant Committee members Janice Colom, Meg Huebner, Sharon Kolby and Chun Lin), heads of NGOs focusing on girls and women and recipients of AWIU micro-grants (Patsy Mertz, Ivory Coast Mothers and Children, Lois Stovall, KRMA- US Partners, Uganda, Grace Arach, Foundation of Women Affected by Conflicts, Uganda, Teri Tan of Sustainable Health Empowerment (SHE) in Cambodia), new AWIU member Alice Lamunu, Voice of Children in Northern Uganda, and AWIU Passports (sisters Ashley and Briana Dawson), university students whose involvement in AWIU is predicated upon their desire to pursue careers in international diplomacy.

The hour-long conversation drew upon all of these voices, and covered I AM A GIRL’s development of a micro finance program so mothers can purchase menstrual products for themselves and their daughters, the quality of local healthcare for girls and women, the role sustainability plays in everything I AM A GIRL does, the making and care of menstrual pads, access to clean water, mental health and building community among women,

Psychological support is a key part of the I AM A GIRL agenda, and is funded by the 2021 AWIU grant. “For this, we focus on how to help these girls open up and deal with the trauma a lot of them are facing,” said Desire. “This is so important to the long-term results of I AM A GIRL.”

Miranda Cohen shared a story about an experience she had enroute to Kenya in October. “It is all about connecting with people and making them feel comfortable to discuss menstruation – this is how we help to remove the stigma of it.” When a female customs officer came across the 200 menstrual cups in Miranda’s luggage, “She didn’t know what they were,” said Miranda. “I explained their use, and then the customs official asked if she could have a few – she thought they were wonderful.”

“Our grantees are coming together in this Conversation, all exchanging ideas, using each other as a resource,” said AWIU member Maggie Sabbag. “This is a role that suits AWIU to a T – where we are facilitating connections between women in different parts of the world who are grappling with the same issues, and sharing information to deal with them as a team.”