Freweini Mebrahtu – The woman behind ending social taboo in Ethiopia

BY SUMUR TSEHAYE

Freweini Mebrahtu is an Ethiopian innovator who brought access to safe, hygienic and affordable reusable menstrual pads to her country.

Freweini, who came from a poor family, was born in Ethiopia, where menstrual hygiene is a major challenge for women and girls.

This is because pads are difficult to find outside the country’s main cities, forcing most women and girls in rural areas to use rags and other inappropriate absorbents.

According to UNICEF’s research, menstruation is considered shameful in larger parts of the country, Africa’s second populace country.

As a result most girls fear being discovered and teased, often by boys, and prefer to skip school during menstruation period and eventually drop out of school to only get married early age.

In 2005, the Ethiopian innovator, who studied chemical engineering in the United States, designed and patented reusable sanitary pad which could be used for up to 2 years with proper care.

Freweini then founded the Mariam Saba Sanitary Products company in Mekele, Tigray Region, which produces about 750,000 pads a year and went on to help hundreds of thousands of women and girls as a result.

Her mission was that “every girl and woman in Ethiopia should have access to safe, hygienic and affordable menstrual pads”

After, she fought for over 13 years to dismantle an age-old social stigma and cultural taboo on menstruation, her efforts start to payoff.

In 2019, Freweini won CNN’s Hero of the Year award for her activism in improving girls’ access to education.

Her actions currently changing the lives of girls in Africa’s second most populace country of 120 million population.

The pads are sold through NGOs around the country at a cost of less than half a dollar.

“I remembered (hearing) that it’s actually a curse to have a period … or that it meant I am ready to be married, or (that) I’m being bad” she said speaking from her own experience which drove her to design the reusable sanitary pads.

Freweini says she wants to similarly break the silence in other African countries.

“We really want to make this [social stigma] an issue of the past for the rest of Africa and beyond”

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