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How The Sewing Together Program Fights Menstrual Poverty in East Africa

period poverty in east Africa
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Danielle Alvarado


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My name is Danielle and I am a mother of two, wife, CEO, and lover of vintage treasures. I created SKL in 2020 to help our community in their need for well-researched and trust-worthy articles, listicles and guides to live a more sustainable and healthy life. So happy to have you here!


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During your oh-so-familiar monthly cycle, you might jokingly blurt the words ‘code red!’ and leap up to reach for your menstrual cup or trusted period panties without a second thought.

For menstruating women living in poverty in East Africa, however, ‘code red’ reflects a very real period emergency. 

The SKL team recently talked to Maja Kotala, the founder of the Sewing Together program, about the complex crisis of period poverty in East Africa and what we can all do to help TODAY.

The Sewing Together Program’s Fight Against Period Poverty.

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What You Didn’t Know About Period Poverty In East Africa.

Uganda’s Ministry of Education reported that nearly one in every four Ugandan girls between the ages of 12 to 18 will drop out of school once they begin menstruating. Why?

Because growing up, pupils aren’t given any access to proper period care products. And without proper education, chances of higher studies and a career are reduced. Thus resulting in a life of unpaid domestic labor and, too often, child marriage.

In fact, period poverty affects more than half of the menstruating population of Kenya.

Research shows that 65% of women and girls in Kenya are unable to afford sanitary pads. As many as one million girls in Kenya miss school each month as a result of their periods and the lack of hygiene products needed.

A survey done by Procter & Gamble and Heart Education found that 42% of Kenyan school girls have never used sanitary pads. Instead of sanitary pads, they use alternatives such as rags, blankets, pieces of mattress, tissue paper, and cotton wool. 

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In rural areas, many girls DIY their forms of protection such as sand, feathers, and leaves causing infections and painful sores – all of which are, of course, extremely unsanitary and add the additional risk of falling ill with reproductive and urinary tract infections.

The World Bank reports that poor menstrual hygiene can lead to dangerous health risks like reproductive and urinary tract infections. These can lead to future infertility and birth complications. While not having access to hand-washing facilities can lead to the spread of other infections, like Hepatitis B and thrush.

Period Poverty In East Africa Is Linked To Suicide & Sexual Exploitation 

This lack of access to proper sanitary options goes way deeper than we think. A 14-year-old schoolgirl in Kenya took her own life after being shamed in class by a teacher for having her period and staining her uniform. The tragic incident clearly highlights how poverty should never be a barrier to menstrual health and dignity. 

A packet of sanitary pads costs $1. Around 36% of Kenyans, however, live on less than the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.

Unable to buy period-care products, it is has been found that many girls have sex with older men in exchange for menstrual products. Thus continuing the vicious cycle of reliance and exploitation.

“Men have lured them into transactional sexual relationships in exchange for sanitary towels,” said Adjoa Nyanteng Yenyi, who works on adolescent sexual health with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Ghana.

This must end.

Maja Kotala’s Sewing Together Program Aims To End Period Poverty

Maja Kotala
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Maja Kotala, a fashion designer from Chorzów, is the founder of the Sewing Together program. She works tirelessly to break this ferocious circle of period poverty and inequality by helping women in East Africa menstruate safely, hygienically, and without shame.

She took it upon herself to use her experience as a fashion designer to build workshops where women can learn from her to become professional designers, dressmakers, and tailors and access the Kenyan fashion Market.

Kotala offers free-of-charge 6-month courses that teach not only sewing and pattern making, but also elements of business, marketing, and photography.

Based on knowledge and experience from Padding Africa about how to make reusable pads, Maja went about teaching women in East Africa how to make reusable sanitary pads for themselves and their communities.

The pads have an inner lining made from bamboo and the outer fabric is cotton. This enables the pads to be washed under cold running water after use and reused over and over. This makes them not only reusable, but also sustainable.

Maja’s goal is to not only fight against the period poverty but to help these women become financially free. She aims to do this by teaching them, step by step, how to create their own fashion lines and businesses.

Majas has a clear vision for the sewing together program. “I have two goals for Sewing Together, one is to help as many women as possible, and for that I need funding, and the second is to become an established fashion brand in Europe and to prove to people in Europe, the potential of African women.”

Thus far, the Sewing Together program successfully took place in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Madagascar, where, currently, trained women run their own businesses.

But they are only getting started!

Maja’s next stop? To make an even bigger impact in 2023 with the Victoria Rally. A rally where we don’t fight time, but we fight for the women we can help. 

The Victoria Rally: 39 Days and 10 Locations.

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On the 23rd of March 2023, Maja Kotala is determined to drive through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and stop in pre-selected locations to set up / equip independent self-sustainable workshops where she will train women on how to sew reusable sanitary pads and provide sexual education.

Today, we want to ask you for your support. To achieve this goal and make sure that all places are self-sufficient, Kotala needs to purchase sewing machines, materials, and such basic things as underwear and soaps for intimate hygiene.

Together we can join forces and show the unimaginable benefits of sustainable traveling, the positive impact of tourism on environmental/social issues, and more than anything, break the taboo around menstruation.

After all, more than half of the world’s population are menstruating people. So it’s about darn time period poverty becomes everybody’s business.

Especially when we have the means to help so many young people explore the benefits of reusable environmentally friendly menstrual products, gain access to sexual education and provide truly accessible ways to get out of poverty once and for all (community and education).

How we can help fight against menstrual poverty:

We are calling our community to help in any way possible.

This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Monetary donations via WeMakeIt.com
  • Menstrual product donations
  • Sharing the work of Maja and the Sewing Together Program in social stories/groups
  • Content creation surrounding menstrual poverty and tagging Sewing Together
  • Interviewing Maja and amplifying her work via podcasts, reels, blog posts, etc.
  • Sponsoring the Sewing Together program via a percentage of profits from sales, monthly donations, or a one-off donation
  • Partnering with the Sewing Together program in various ways
  • Joining Maja in Africa to volunteer your time, hands, and work experience

sewing together program
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Together, we can help Maja and the sewing together program reach its absolute fullest potential. The time to act is now – and what better time to help women in need than today?

For more information, visit Maja’s website: www.mkotala.com or head over to the Sewing Together Instagram page: @sewing.together.

Looking for more articles on reusable menstrual care? Check out these articles below:

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