The results of our math problem

Back in the fall I mentioned trying to figure out the equation for calculating how much deodorant a person needs when moving to Africa for X amount of time. I’ve got a new math problem for you:

When given money to buy sanitary napkins for women in prison and a selection that includes light, regular, maxi, overnight and maternity, how many of each should you buy?

Here’s a little info that may help you decide.

Ndeye unloading the donated items from the truck

Yesterday Jeana and I met with Ndeye, an amazing woman who volunteers as an advocate for women and minors in prison here in Dakar and also in Rufisque, near where I used to live. Having never visited the prisons here, I really had no idea what they are like. So I asked Ndeye to tell us…

Toiletry items

The Dakar women’s prison had 97 inmates as of last week. Most of them are Senegalese, although some are from other African countries or Europe.

The majority of these women have been arrested for illegal prostitution. In order to practice prostitution legally in Senegal, the women must have a regularly updated medical certificate showing they do not have HIV or an STD. Although they can get these certificates at a hospital in Dakar, according to Ndeye many of them do not because of the stigma and shame they feel walking into hospital wing that is reserved for prostitutes. Prostitution is also illegal for minors, so anyone practicing under the age of 18 can also be arrested.

Loading up Ndeye's taxi

I was surprised to hear that the second most common crime is infanticide. Ndeye said that a culture where family and community relationships are so important combined with the shame of an unmarried woman getting pregnant is what leads the women to kill their babies. When they are abandoned by the baby’s father, risk being kicked out by their families and communities and have no means to support themselves or the child, they sometimes resort to killing the child.

Other causes for arrest include theft and drug possession, which in theory carries an automatic 25-year sentence in Senegal. Ndeye said that to date, the longest sentence given to a woman is ten years, but it’s growing quickly as the trafficking problems increase.

After being arrested and imprisoned, the women wait anywhere from two weeks to four years for their trial. That’s right: four years. Part of what Ndeye does is go speak to lawyers, court officials and judges on behalf of women and minors who have been abandoned by their families and have no one to push their case forward.

Milk, coffee, tea, sugar...

Ndeye also tries to take supplies to the prisoners, such as much-needed toiletry items and small comforts such as coffee, tea, milk and sugar. And seeing as much of her time is spent with women, there’s also a need for feminine hygiene products.

Which is how, one sunny afternoon, Jeana and I found ourselves trying to calculate how many of each kind of sanitary napkin to buy with money donated by the International Christian Fellowship of Dakar. Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d be trying to figure out!

Jeana and Ndeye

Ndeye plans to open a rehabilitation and reintegration center for women who are coming out of prison. She has purchased the land and has about two thirds of the funds raised. If you are interested in helping with this project, please email us.