At the end of 2021, “The Peacebuilding Project” was awarded the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize. It is an international volunteer-led youth organization founded by Rhea Mahanta. In order to get more acquainted with the organization and its work, they wrote a blog that showcases what peacebuilding looks like in practice. In the blog, the young peacebuilders describe their activities and international projects, such as training and supporting women from Afghanistan.
The Peacebuilding Project (PBP) is an international volunteer-led initiative advancing SDG16+ and the Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) Agenda. Founded in 2017 by Rhea Mahanta at the University of Chicago, U.S.A., the project expanded its operations to India in 2018 with the Rohingya Literacy Project with the most persecuted minority in the world. While promoting conflict resolution and peaceful dialogue, PBP supports the participation of youth in peace processes across borders on matters of international peace and security. The aim of the organization is to educate and empower communities about strategies for peace by promoting a culture of peace and understanding.
PBP has previously hosted Training and Workshops on Conflict Resolution and Mediation, Strategies of Non-Violence, Women, Peace & Security, among others. To bolster academic instruction and discourse with real-life interventions, the project also implements various community engagement programs that include providing humanitarian support to vulnerable populations such as refugees. The organization has worked with Syrian, Afghan, and Rohingya refugee groups in various capacities in the U.S.A and India, including organizing donation drives, hosting community dinners to promote the integration of refugee families with host communities, cleaning drives, and more recently, a skill-building project with Afghan refugee women in India.
The Afghan Women Skill-building Project
Women around the world face taboos around menstruation along with varying levels of accessibility to menstrual hygiene products. With no path to citizenship in India, and livelihoods wrecked by coronavirus lockdowns, many Afghan refugees were left to fend for themselves facing an uncertain future. For a woman seeking refuge in a host country, the challenges are compounded due to socio-economic barriers, stigma, health risks, and lack of access to menstrual sanitation and hygiene. Easy and affordable access to menstrual hygiene products is one of the many challenges female refugees face, and economic limitations further contribute to the difficulty in accessing these products.
With this in mind, The Peacebuilding Project, together with People Beyond Borders, joined hands to apply for Asia’s first-ever Human Mobility Challenge organized by UNDP Asia Pacific and Youth Co: Lab. The combined team underwent intense workshops and a rigorous selection process to win second place, securing a small grant to implement their project idea to support refugee women gain access to income-generating and sustainable hygiene products. The project’s goal was to build the capacity of Afghan refugee women by training them to self-produce eco-friendly, and reusable sanitary pads & products which would not only help generate livelihood and income but also offer sustainable access to menstrual health and hygiene products.
The project was implemented over three months from August- October in New Delhi’s Malviya Nagar with four expected outputs (i) access to proper menstrual hygiene products, (ii) addressing the stigma around menstrual health, (iii) tackling waste management through eco-friendly and sustainable products, and (iv) promote livelihood and entrepreneurial opportunities through skills training.
Implemented in separate stages, women were first trained in a peer-to-peer participatory model, to use creative tools such as music, art, and exercises to tackle everyday challenges around menstruation. Through training of trainers (ToT) offered by partner organization Kamakhya India, women were then taught to produce and sell sanitary kits, a proportion of which was bought back to ensure a small profit. Finally, the products were then examined and improvised for quality assurance for potential buyers. To optimize the sustainability and impact of the short-term project, the team paired each beneficiary with ‘Skill Buddies’ for continued mentorship on income generation and related skills development (eg. financial literacy, communication, sales, marketing, digital literacy, enterprise management, etc) so that they could continue to produce and sell their products even after the project is completed.
Although our pilot project was budgeted for 25 women, the number of women who attended the Training of Trainers workshops went above 30 and were not limited to Afghan women only. Somali refugee women who heard about the project also participated in some of the sessions. After assessing and evaluating the impact of this project, we found that the total number of pads sold by Afghan women was 1279, making a collective income of Rs.10,000. The project was able to increase the average income of each woman by 8%.
By conducting training modules that teach women and youth groups to recycle used cloth, sanitize, and manufacture DIY menstrual pads, can open a conversation around best practices which can only be possible if the necessary resources and funding are made available to the groups who already possess high skills and knowledge. With greater investment, the project could be potentially scaled to other communities, inviting male gender champions and community leaders to promote and support women’s engagement in such activities.
The Peacebuilding Project’s approach is to empower conflict-affected and displaced populations through engaging educational and interactive modules. This not only creates an environment that enables sustainable practices but also hopes to provide a potential pathway for social cohesion and integration with the host community. Our vision is to replicate this model in more communities to empower displaced populations and build a culture of self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and sustainability; one sanitary pad at a time.