How This African Woman Beat Global Odds To Become The 2019 Hero Of The Year

By  |  December 9, 2019

It may come across as absurd and preposterous but to this day, there is a stigma around adolescent females in the rural parts of one of the two African countries that were never colonised — Ethiopia. (Liberia is the other one.)

In the rural parts of Ethiopia, young girls suffer because they are denied opportunities. And they are denied these opportunities just for being “human”.

Yes, in some Ethiopian communities, young girls suffer ignominy and often drop out of school altogether just because of something as natural as menstruation.

Yes, as many as half the girls in rural parts of Ethiopia miss school for reasons related to their periods — and that often hampers their education, and by extension, the rest of their lives. What an anomaly!

Freweini Mebrahtu — an Ethiopian who has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the US — has dedicated her life fixing that anomaly. And for her efforts, she has been named the 2019 Hero of the Year by CNN.

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Mebrahtu was voted the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year, beating 9 others who made up the Top 10 CNN Heroes finalists, despite being the only African in the top 10. She was recognised for her efforts in designing a reusable menstrual pad and trying to end the cultural stigma around the issue.

Mebrahtu designed and patented a reusable menstrual pad in 2005. She and her team produce 750,000 reusable pads a year at her factory in Ethiopia. Nearly 800,000 girls and women have benefited from her work.

More than 80 percent of the pads she manufactures are sold to non-governmental organizations that distribute them for free.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Mebrahtu said when receiving the award. “I am so humbled and grateful for CNN … this is for all the girls and women everywhere. Dignity for all.

The victorious Ethiopian has firsthand knowledge of the stigma around young girls and periods.

“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,” Mebrahtu told CNN.

Image result for freweini mebrahtu images
Freweini Mebrahtu
Source: CNN

To intensify efforts aimed at stopping the stupid stigma, Mebrahtu has joined ranks with the nonprofit, Dignity Period, to end the stigma around the issue by speaking at schools and teaching girls and boys that menstruation is natural, not something a subject of ridicule or something to be embarrassed about.

“The whole goal was not only making the pads but also attacking the cultural baggage to it,” she said.

Dignity Period has distributed more than 150,000 free menstrual hygiene kits purchased from Mebrahtu’s factory. Data gathered by the group shows that schools visited by Dignity Period had a 24 percent increase in attendance among girls.

Having emerged as the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year, Mebrahtu is entitled to USD 100 K to expand her work. All of the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2019 were honored at yesterday’s gala where they all received a cash award of USD 10 K.

Featured Image Courtesy: CNN

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