Mary C. Namagambe is a UN Human Rights Fellow for People of African Descent. She left her native Uganda at the age of nine to move to Denmark, where her activism began. At the young age of 24 she founded an organisation called The N-word Hurts, a platform where people of African descent could discuss and reflect on their experience of being called racial slurs.
“It was a sensitive project for me because I could see myself in it. I could see being young and being bullied. It was really important for me to create a space where we could have a voice, have a conversation and also teach our fellow Danes what this word (a word in Danish most commonly translated to negro, but in its worst usage is equivalent to ‘n****r’) does to us,” Namagambe told the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Namagambe also established Foreigners Guiding Foreigners, a peer-to-peer guidance-counselling programme for newly arrived foreign students who have difficulty navigating the Danish education system.
Locally produced, affordable sanitary pads
Over time Namagambe’s focus shifted to bridging the period poverty gap for women and girls in Uganda. Thus began She for She, a company that locally produces reusable sanitary pads to empower women and girls in Uganda and other African countries.
The organisations website explains that they “create truly affordable sanitary pads combined with health education through an interactive, comic-based pamphlet that is designed to enable girls to make informed decisions and measurably increase their productivity and health.”
She told OHCHR how her activism has progressed, saying, “When I began it was mainly because I didn’t want to just sit and listen. I didn’t want to just sit and be mad. I wanted to be a part of the conversation. If you see that something in your community is not right, if you can feel in your bones that what is happening is unfair, stand up! Your voice is valid. If at first you wonder, “Are they listening to me? Do I matter?”, you should just keep on speaking.”
According to Kickstarter, She for She educates girls about menstruation and increases self-esteem for women through educational activities, workshops and capacity-building programmes. It addresses social and economic stigmatisation, taboos and prejudices in relation to menstruation.
At the moment all reusable pads the organisation produces are made by Ugandan women in Kampala and the Ugandan village of Mateete. Vulnerable women are taught the necessary skills to produce reusable pads, which allows them to provide for their families.
“This environmentally friendly and economically sustainable local approach to making pads not only empowers young girls by giving them the tools they need to stay in school and the confidence to fight the taboo against menstruation, but also provides a viable source of income for young women and girls,” the website states.
Ultimately the company is tackling two core humanitarian issues at once: a lack of access to appropriate health care information and products, and the rate at which young girls in Africa are dropping out of school.