Sewing seeds of change in Papua New Guinea

A group of women from Papua New Guinea are seated around a table in a shared space, you can see lush tropical plants out the open windows behind them. There are older style sewing machines and materials to make reusable pads on the large table they are seated around.

These women from Savon community, Kunua in Papua New Guinea are taking part in a sewing practical - learning how to sew reusable pads and learning about and discussing menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) along the way - part of a strategy to promote acceptance of MHH as a natural part of life and shift harmful stigma. (Plan International PNG / Ishmael Palipal)



In Papua New Guinea’s Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB), menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) remain taboo, and a very sensitive topic rarely talked about in communities.


Traditional social norms consider women and girls to be “unclean” during their menstrual period and prevent their participation in family and community activities, undermining their freedom and engagement in village life, including attendance at school, as it is considered culturally inappropriate for them to be around boys during their period.


To address these challenges and change perceptions, as a member of Water for Women’s PNG WASH Consortium WaSH Em i Bikpela Samting, Plan International has been training schoolteachers to deliver classes on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools, including a specific module on MHH.


In addition, a training package for teachers and community members has been developed that uses reusable sanitary pad production as an avenue to promote acceptance of menstrual hygiene as a natural part of life. Participants are taught how to use sewing machines, cut materials and sew reusable sanitary pads, while also provided information about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. During the COVID-19 pandemic, training was extended to include lessons in face mask making and COVID-19 prevention.

A male from PNG sits at a seweing machine, he cuts material to sew into a reusable sanitary pad during a training session on MHH

A male teacher cuts material to sew into a reusable sanitary pad during a training session in Buka, ARoB (Plan International PNG / Ishmael Palipal)


To date, four training sessions have been held in partnership with the Bougainville Women’s Federation network with 68 women and 17 men, including schoolteachers from seven schools, participants from a health care facility and a community in South Bougainville. And the impact is already telling.


“My young girl is using the reusable sanitary pad and saving money. I am selling all my pads too and earning money for my family. We have conducted [menstrual health] awareness in all areas of Haku constituency and distributed to students at two primary schools. A male teacher from a secondary school also bought a sample [of sanitary pads] to do awareness at the school.”

Elisabeth, South Bougainville.


Since completing the training, some teachers have reported showing other schoolteachers how to sew reusable sanitary pads and have convinced school boards to purchase sewing machines so that they can continue making sanitary pads for teachers and students.


“After attending the training on reusable sanitary pad, I am using it myself. It was a new thing to me as and I found the sanitary pad really comfortable and safe to use. One of the good things about the reusable sanitary pad is that we are only spending K5.00 for a one –time payment for a pad. In a year, it costs at least K60.00 to buy a pad from the store, which is costly. Sewing our own reusable sanitary pad is cheaper and affordable for me as a young girl from the village.


We have two male chiefs who are also supportive of the women’s group and raise awareness on menstrual hygiene management in the village, comfortably talking about menstrual hygiene. They assist us in fixing our sewing machines too.” – Joy, South Bougainville.


Launched in November 2021 during the initial phase of Water for Women, the PNG WASH Consortium comprises Plan International, World Vision, WaterAid and Live and Learn Environmental Education. The consortium has supported improved WASH planning, management, practices and facilities in 20 schools in ARoB, eight schools in New Ireland Province and 15 schools in Morobe, while also delivering individual WASH projects that have benefitted some 113,494 people in PNG to date.


Water for Women's PNG WASH Consortium demonstrates a new way of working, with individual civil society organisation partners collaborating to leverage both bilateral cooperation between the governments of PNG and Australia, and technical expertise on the ground to expand existing Australian government support for WASH in PNG. 




To celebrate #MHDay2023, we have launched our latest publication

WASH in Schools: Insights from Water for Women


A thumbnail cover on blue background and the words 'Just launched!'

Making menstruation a normal part of life is creating a world where no woman, girl or person is held back because they menstruate.

From poverty reduction and stronger economies to healthier populations and better educational outcomes, the benefits of investing in Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) are far-reaching.

On Menstrual Hygiene Day - 28th May - and every day, we are committed to #PeriodAction.

Together with our partners, we are working to ensure sustainable MHH solutions through water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects across the Asia Pacific region. We are transforming WASH systems to empower women, girls and gender diverse people, including those with disabilities, by shifting stigma and harmful norms, and strengthening access to menstrual hygiene-friendly sanitation services and products—so that periods can be managed safely and with dignity.


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