Kent State Students, Faculty Collaborate to Create a Better Future for Women
The Kent State University Women’s Center has always believed in empowering women and setting them up to be the most successful versions of themselves. During the spring semester, the Women’s Center put that mission into action.
Throughout February and March, the Women’s Center collaborated with Kent State’s Fashion School and Kent’s Socially Responsible Sweatshop to turn passion into purpose for the inaugural Days for Girls initiative.
Since 2008, the nonprofit Days for Girls has helped empower young women in countries including Kenya, Uganda and India by providing necessary feminine hygiene products that has kept them from having to miss weeks of school, thus, acquiring a more equitable opportunity for continued education.
“Working at a university where we are constantly sharing and showing the value of continued education, I couldn’t imagine a better place to do something to help all young girls have that opportunity,” says Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, director of Kent State’s Women’s Center. “It just made sense.”
The event featured a temporary sewing factory for a “Sew and Celebrate” sew-a-thon where Fashion School students, staff and members of the Kent community assisted in creating sanitary products.
Tameka Ellington, Ph.D., faculty director for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for the Fashion School, worked as a direct partner for the Women's Center for the event and directed the sewing workshop in addition to helping to organize the cutting stations and an assembly line to make the products for the Days for Girls kits.
“I love all the work that the Women’s Center is doing and continues to do for all the ladies on our campus,” Dr. Ellington says. “It’s a wonderful initiative. If we can help some young girl in a country where basic necessities – such as sanitary resources – are not available, if we can provide that, it’s a blessing.”
The goal for the evening was to put together items that will provide sustainable menstrual-care solutions to girls living in Somalian refugee camps.
Through the hard work generated by 87 volunteers, the March 3 Days for Girls event resulted in more than 200 logged volunteer hours and the creation of 20 completed kits. These kits consist of a total of 160 liners, 40 shields, 40 pairs of underwear, 40 Ziploc bags, 20 bars of soap and 20 washcloths.
“The most rewarding part of my involvement was to see how my fashion students showed up and put forth so much dedication and commitment to this project,” Dr. Ellington says. “It was overwhelming to see the amount of donations we received from students, faculty and staff, as well as the local community.”
Days for Girls speaks to young girls as it allows them to understand and acknowledge the importance of reproductive health, as well as creating awareness around a global issue through its existence as an education campaign.
According to the Days for Girls website, more than 300,000 women and girls in more than 100 countries have been positively impacted by the nonprofit. Statistics from the nonprofit’s website report that school retention rates for girls in Kenya reached 96 percent after receiving kits, up from a 75 percent average.
“Women having opportunity for education positively impacts the entire community, and this program also helps to empower women to have body autonomy and remove some of the stigma around a natural body process,” Ms. Pegg-Kirby says.
In America, pads and menstrual products may seem minor, but girls in marginalized areas of the world resort to banana leaves and rags as substitutes for proper menstrual products, proving that pads make a significant difference in the lives of women. Days for Girls helps counteract this by providing a safe and long-lasting alternative.
Mary Ann Kasper of Kent’s Socially Responsible Sweatshop was motivated to get involved in the initiative. Ms. Kasper assisted with securing resources, such as sewing machines and thread, and helped facilitate the environment.
“Days for Girls is a social justice project, and the Socially Responsible Sweatshop is all about social justice,” Ms. Kasper says. “Even a little bit of help can make a difference in a girl’s life, helping a girl not miss one week of school a month is huge.”
Collaborators would like to continue the momentum put in place and hope Days for Girls will grow and transition into an annual tradition for years to come.
They hope this event can also turn into an initiative where girls locally can benefit, too, as other schools such as Brown and Case Western University have previously executed this event.
“This issue of access to resources and stigmas associated with the natural menstrual process isn’t limited to other countries,” Ms. Pegg-Kirby says. “Why do those who menstruate have to carry the additional burden of expense for these products just based on biology? It is because of this natural bodily process that we are all here. It’s about time we recognized that.”