Why Is Empowering Local Women So Important In Combating Poverty?
Sunshine is streaming through the striped window curtains on the top floor of the newly completed Sew Powerful sewing co-op building in Lusaka, Zambia. It's early morning, and the seamstresses have reported to work for another busy day of stitching reusable feminine hygiene pads—a crucial component of the resources gifted to teen girls in their health classes at school. The goal of gifting these handmade products is to break the poverty cycle by enabling the girls to complete their education, learn a life skill, and earn a living wage.
Many girls, however, fall through the cracks in developing countries like Zambia. It is the cultural norm in Zambia for girls to stay home from school when on their periods. There are limited resources to support impoverished girls during this time. The girls in Ngombe Compound, one of the sites where Sew Powerful serves, have no indoor plumbing. Clothing is washed outdoors in a big pot heated over an open fire. Disposable products such as women use in developed countries are too expensive and not practical, as there are no sanitation services in Ngombe. When girls stay home from school in keeping with this cultural norm, they miss quality instructional time and ultimately fail school exams at higher rates than boys, commonly dropping out of school altogether by 7th or 8th grade.
Research indicates that girls who stay in school marry later, have children later, are generally healthier, and are better able to provide for the needs of their children. Sew Powerful exists to help them achieve that end by training local women to stitch the reusable feminine hygiene pads and earn a living wage. The pads are given to girls along with underwear and soap in a beautiful purse made by volunteer seamstresses around the world.
Today, Esther Mkandawire stands before the seamstresses to make a big announcement: an anonymous donor has gifted more Juki industrial machines to the co-op. The women are jubilant, rising to their feet, dancing, and shouting. After a moment, their voices join in a song of thanks and praise to God. Their joy is contagious.