Western world girls may not think missing school, even dropping out, because of their periods is a thing. Yet as many as half the girls in rural parts of Ethiopia miss school for reasons related to their periods. That can have a devastating effect on their education and the rest of their lives as a result.
Freweini Mebrahtu has dedicated her life to end the cultural stigma around the issue and to keeping girls in school by designing a reusable menstrual pad. Now, because of her work, she has been named the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year. “I don’t even know what to say,” Frewini Mebrahtu said when receiving the award. “I am so humbled and grateful for CNN”, she continued “this is for all the girls and women everywhere. Dignity for all.”
Online voters selected Frewini as the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year award. She was born in Ethiopia and studied chemical engineering in the US. She designed and patented a reusable menstrual pad in 2005. She and her team produce 750,000 reusable pads a year at her factory in Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia.
More than 80% of the pads she manufactures are sold to non-governmental organizations that distribute them for free and nearly 800,000 girls and women have benefited from her work. She knows personally what it’s like to deal with the issue. Frewini teamed up with the nonprofit organization, Dignity Period, to end the stigma around the issue by speaking at schools and teaching girls and boys that menstruation is natural, not shameful. “The whole goal was not only making the pads, but also attacking the cultural baggage to it,” Frewini Speaks. Dignity Period has distributed more than 150,000 free menstrual hygiene kits purchased from her factory.
Data gathered shows that schools visited by Dignity Period had around 24% increase in attendance among girls. As the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year, Mebrahtu will receive $100,000 to expand her work and gain a leadership training. All of the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2019 were honored at Sunday’s gala and will receive a $10,000 cash award and the leadership training to bolster and grow their organizations.
Mebrahtu was presented with the award Sunday night by hosts Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa. You can help Freweini’s organization by contributing via CNNHeroes.com. All donations made to her organization by January 2, 2020, will be matched by Subaru up to $50,000 per Hero.