Project gives feminine hygiene products to women around the world

EVERETT — As they measured and cut fabric, and the familiar whir of sewing machines filled the air, members of Temple Beth Or were practicing their faith’s tradition of mitzvah.

The word is often mistranslated as a good deed, said Jessica Kessler Marshall, the temple’s rabbi. It actually means a commandment, she said. “We are commanded to do what we can to bring divine light and healing and wholeness into the world.”

The project she and 10 other volunteers had undertaken was the production of drawstring bags made from colorful fabric and closed with the tug of a ribbon.

The project has effects far beyond what might seem like simple gifts that have been shipped to women around the world.

The bags contain feminine-hygiene products. While access to these items in the U.S. is as simple as a stop at a neighborhood store, in some countries women don’t have access to products to use during menstruation.

That can affect their ability to attend school, go to work or, in some cases, even leave home, said Celeste Mergens, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Days for Girls, based in Lynden.

Talk of periods in some cultures is considered taboo, and menstruating women are stigmatized, said Mallory Brick of Seattle, a Days for Girls volunteer.

Women sometimes are violently attacked when they’re out in public and don’t have the products that they need, Marshall said. “They are fired from their jobs. I know girls face terrible, terrible violence and humiliation.”

Girls miss school when they’re menstruating, Brick said. “Girls literally sit at home for days at a time.”

Days for Girls has chapters throughout the U.S. and in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines. Though the work of volunteers, the organization has been able to provide handmade bags filled with feminine hygiene products to women in 70 nations and six continents, Mergens said.

After hearing a talk about the project at a conference, Marshall asked temple members if they would like to participate in a work session, said Melanie Bober, of Snohomish.

“If you read the Days for Girls website, you can see that women around the world who don’t have feminine hygiene (products) end up losing days from work, they aren’t able to go to school, and are physically and sexually abused in trade for feminine hygiene products,” she said.

The kits allow women “to take care of themselves without announcing to the rest of their village that they’re having their periods,” Bober said.

On Sunday, two workrooms at the temple were filled with tables at which volunteers had divided up the various steps of making the handbags. Ironing and cutting the fabric, sewing up edges and threading ribbon through the fabric for its tie string.

Michael Cross, from Machias, stood at a table carefully measuring and cutting fabric into the blocks that would be sewn into bags.

“I’m an engineer and this looks like an engineering project,” he said. “You notice I’m doing the cutting.”

His wife, Susan Cross, said she joined the project because she knows how to sew. “I felt like I could use my skills,” she said.

Naomi Katsh, of Mukilteo, said that the project “seems like something small we can do to be helpful to women and girls who are being treated unfairly in other countries through no fault of their own.”

Michele Goodmark, of Mill Creek, explained that she’s an avid quilter. “This project,” she said, “is right down my alley.”

After about three hours of work, the work group had produced 87 handbags. “It’s so amazing that this is proving to be one of the keys to reversing the cycles of poverty and violence against women all over the world,” Mergens said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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