Freweini Mebrahtu won the “2019 CNN Hero of The Year” award. She won the award for her extraordinary work on women missing school because of their periods, which is a stigmatized issue in Ethiopia. She was honored at an awards ceremony on Sunday night.
About half of the girls in rural areas of Ethiopia could not finish primary school. According to the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF), harassment and teasing from boys during menstruation, was the main reason to quit regular education; the affordability of sanitary pads was the biggest challenge for the girls.
Freweini spent most of her time to address the challenges of the girls in rural areas of Ethiopia. Designing reusable menstrual pads was the first step, and at the same time, she works hard to end the cultural stigma on period.
“This is for all the girls and women everywhere,” Freweini said while receiving the award. She was selected for the award by online vote from the top 10 finalists.
After attending college in the US with Chemical Engineering, Freweini designed and patented reusable menstrual sanitary pads 2005. In her factory located at Mekele, Ethiopia, she produces 75,000 reusable pads per year with her team, benefiting about 800,000 girls and women.
Speaking about the issue and teaching the community that menstruation is not shameful but natural, Freweini, along with Dignity Period, the nonprofit organization, tried to end the stigma on the subject.
She sells the reusable pads for nonprofit organizations like Dignity Period, and they distribute them for free. Dignity Period alone has distributed 150,000 sanitary kits purchased from Freweini.
Freweini will receive $100,000 as the 2019 CNN Hero of The Year to expand her project. Her action, to address the most challenging issue in the country, with more than 50 percent of the women population, makes her an Ethiopian hero as well.