Seongnam, SOUTH KOREA – When we think about girls not having access to sanitary pads, we often think about developing countries. However, Korea, which is not a third world country, has girls who have to use the soles of their shoes or towels for their menstruation. While we may think that the access to this biological need is an isolated issue, it is happening right outside of some of the most privileged schools in Korea.
Leading a group of 24, I founded the first ever Pad Drive at school this spring in an effort to raise pads for a local women’s shelter. The Pad Drive is an extension of the Pad Initiative that I started at school last year.
Although there have been various drives at our school, the pad drive held more meaning and substance for me. This was a movement towards sensitivity, towards awareness of the more private and covert parts of women’s inequality.
It took a dose of courage and words from supporters to get this project off the ground because of how sensitive this issue is.
Despite it being an international school based on an American curriculum, Korea International School (KIS) is still bound by its physical surroundings; students were hesitant to even read about our work in fear that their friends would find them.
However, after months of planning and coordinating, I finally got the project off the ground with my club Social Justice League because I knew that at some point in time, someone has to speak up. I knew that we couldn’t just study in such prestige when girls out there have to miss school for four or five days through no fault of their own.
With one box set up in our school lobby, we collected only a couple pads the first week. People would merely glance at our work without any reaction or care.
Realizing how indifferent our school has been to this pressing issue, our club focused more on making the conversation more comfortable. We did this by taking photos of students and staff who donated pads with signs that they wrote, whether that was “I support women’s health,” or “ Pads are a necessity, not a luxury.”
By having a board filled with photos of our community supporting and voicing their opinions on this issue, students started to realize that donating pads isn’t something to ashamed of.
The support we received did not end here, however. One of my most trusted teachers sent an email to all the faculty about his own insensitivity and inaction towards this event, and how teachers and staff have responsibility to take action.
“What have I done to help in this cause?” he wrote. “Nothing. A clear reminder to myself that inaction and indifference are interchangeable. We often promote KIS core values and global citizenship to our students, but fail on our part to engage. I fail.”
Gradually, that empty box turned into five, six, seven boxes overflowing with pads. I had messages from teachers and students telling me that this was such a great cause, that this was something we needed at KIS.
We collected almost 3,300 pads and donated them to GFoundation, an NGO that gives pads to Korean women in need.
To start a project on such a sensitive and closed subject a lot of courage for me. During the planning process, I often hesitated and asked myself, “ Is this really going to make a change? How are people going to react to this? What if we collect only a few pads?”
However, when a male teacher stands up for our work, when peers discuss the importance of individuals starting a conversation, when someone messages me, “Thank you. We needed this,” I know that what I did was right.
Even though it might not have sparked a dialogue in some, it did for others. Because whether it is a whole class discussion on the lack of sanitary pads for girls or just a small one-to-one whisper, people heard and talked — loud or quiet. And, for me, that’s all it matters.
I hope the Pad Drive will be a continuing legacy at my school for years to come.
Sarah Se-Jung Oh is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.