In certain parts of the world each month, girls and women disappear. They are shunned. They hide. They are banished from homes or schools or jobs. Some think the menstrual blood they shed is a sign that they are possessed or ill or impure. Some think they are dying.
Some gather leaves, weeds, rags or paper to catch the blood, the unsanitary materials causing infections and pain.
In rural villages of Nepal, girls and women on their menstrual periods are isolated in sheds, away from their families, food, safety and warmth. Some succumb to hemorrhaging, hypothermia, snakes, attacks by wild animals or brutish men.
In these harsh lands, this natural part of being a woman is unnatural, despised, demoralizing and potentially deadly.
Christine Glidden of Albuquerque learned this through a woman she met six years ago who had lived in a Nepalese refugee camp.
That meeting changed Glidden's life. Now, she hopes to change the world, one young woman at a time.
That journey has taken Glidden across the globe to those villages in Nepal, to isolated towns in Guatemala and this summer to Zambia to provide girls and women with kits of reusable sanitary pads and underwear and with sex education classes.
" When girls understand how their bodies work, they understand that what they are experiencing is not scary or bad," she said." Just understanding the connection between a period and pregnancy is a mystery to some of them. Our kits can play a major part in a comprehensive health program for girls that enables them to stay in school and learn a skill, delay marriage, have fewer children and live with freedom and dignity."
She founded Women To Be, a nonprofit, in 2014, and in a happy coincidence was put in touch with a woman who said she and her friends had already been sewing reusable pads but had no way to distribute them.
Glidden became the distributor.
That year, Glidden delivered about 400 kits to girls and women in Nepal.
In 2016, she delivered 1,300 more kits created by volunteer " sewists."
That same year, she took 500 kits to Guatemala. For that trip, she was accompanied by Xavier Zamarripa, co-founder of VARA Wines in Albuquerque, who Glidden said was so moved by the power of the kits that his company became the major supporter of Women To Be.
The kits themselves consist of eight washable pads made of bright-patterned flannel, two fabric protectors with waterproof sheathing, two pair of underwear, a washcloth, two resealable bags to keep the used pads in before washing and a reusable calendar with which the young women can mark off their menstrual dates. All items come packaged in a colorful drawstring bag. Each kit lasts up to three years.
All told, 2,200 kits have been distributed with plans for another 1,000 kits to be delivered in June to Zambia.
" This is all due to the local sewists, the women of Albuquerque," said Glidden, who estimates she has 15 to 20 " hardcore" volunteers and about 20 more who chip in as needed.
" They are committed to improving the lives of girls and women around the world," she said." I call them unstoppable, effective and scrappy because we work with nothing. We do what we can with what we can get, and if we can't get it we work around it."
The need is great. Estimates by both UNICEF and the World Health Organization are that at least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods.
So Glidden has plans.
" We are just getting started," she said." We have big goals."
One of the biggest is planning for a visit to Albuquerque from a Zambian dignitary - who formally goes by the title King of the Bemba Tribe of Zambia, Chitimukulu Sosala Kanyanta Manga II - at the end of April. The ruler of the country's largest tribe reached out to Glidden after hearing about Women To Be and asking if the kits might be distributed in his country.
Glidden said Sosala is also interested in helping her establish a sewing center in Zambia to train and employ women to make the kits for distribution in their homelands. Another center is also planned for Nepal.
" My vision is we don't just change the quality of life for a single girl or a single village, but that we can improve the level of health and economic success in these regions," she said." We do that by giving girls dignity so that they don't have to hide anymore."
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal. com or follow her on Twitter@jolinegkg. Go to www. abqjournal. com / letters / new to submit a letter to the editor.
Women helping women
Women To Be needs volunteers to sew, serve as project managers and organize. Donations also accepted.
Women To Be will be hosting His Royal Highness Henry Sosala of Zambia in late April and early May. Public events will include free public lectures at 2 p. m. May 1, Smith Brasher Hall at CNM, 900 University SE; and 5 p. m. May 3, Mitchell Hall at UNM, 200 Yale NE.
Wine for Womanhood fundraiser featuring wines from VARA Wines, food, music, silent auction, 4-7: 30 p. m. May 5, VARA Winery, 315 Alameda NE. Tickets $50 in advance at Women To Be web site.
For information on Women To Be, all events, volunteering or donating: www. women 2 be. org