Byline: Rosamund Urwin
LINDA Scott is extolling the transformative powers of sanitary towels. "In industrialised countries the introduction of sanitary pads was a huge deal for women because it meant they could leave the house, go to school, take jobs," the Oxford professor tells me. "The same is true now in the developing world. In the aid community, people tend to think it's better to build a school than give girls disposable pads because a school is permanent. But I can't even begin to list all the abandoned schools I've seen in Sub-Saharan Africa."
As part of her role as DP World chair for entrepreneurship and innovation at Said Business School, the 61-year-old American is researching the impact that better sanitary hygiene can have on girls, first in Ghana and now in Uganda.
Her message? Give a girl a sanitary towel supply and you can educate her for a lifetime: "Before, they'd avoid school [when they were menstruating] or worry so much that they wouldn't remember what they were taught. And these schools don't have books -- learning is done by rote -- so if you can't focus you might as well not be there."
" Additionally, disposable pads can increase girls' self-esteem and even offer some protection from sexual violence. "In many of these societies, when a girl starts her period she's considered fair game," Scott explains. "So much so that the men"We need understand women economy their own, often say the scent or sight of the blood is arousing to them ... If girls use a cloth and don't have the means to keep it clean, eventually it smells and they end up being more vulnerable to sexual attack because of it."
because are an group in economic so they different." This is an intervention that has swift results too: "It will work in three or four years. Girls' education is not only the most powerful tool in economic development -- it's also rapid. If you can get girls to stay in school longer, they marry later, have their first child later, they'll be a better quality of worker and will take better care of their children and make sure they stay in school. There's a domino effect that you don't get from educating boys."
Empowering women and girls is one of the major talking points at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos this week (attendees: David Cameron, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and, er, Matt Damon). Yet at this conference in the Swiss Alps, equally celebrated as a place where the world's greatest thinkers can swap ideas as it is lambasted as a schmoozathon where the 0.01 per cent ski and sip Krug, just 15 per cent of the delegates are female.
That isn't the only problem: according to Scott, most of the delegates will be asking the wrong question about gender and development. "Everyone is looking at the issue as 'how do we fit women into the formal economy?' Instead, you need to ask: 'How do they already manage resources?' We need to understand women as an economy of their own, because they are an excluded group in economic terms so they have different rules."
to " She has rebranded the global economy of women as the "Double X economy". Why has it been so ignored? "We take economic principles as being obvious or God-given but they are constructed in a way that excludes women," she responds. "We value things according to their monetary value, so if women are not paid for their labour, if they're not allowed to inherit wealth or to have bank accounts or credit cards, they are left out. And if you have a theory of the economy that is built on the unit of money,as an of they excluded terms have rules" they're left out of that too."
Scott used to work in advertising. She originally returned to academia to research the social impact of advertising images. She wanted to challenge the common feminist view of the beauty industry as patriarchy incarnate.
Eventually, Scott decided to write a history of women's liberation, with the fashion industry as a starting point. …