May 28 is the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day, so today we're talking periods.
Every month, along with roughly half the world’s population, I menstruate. It’s a part of my life I can’t really avoid – it’s not the worst thing in the world, but I can’t say I look forward to it either.
Among my girlfriends mentions of my period are met with sympathetic nods, or eyerolls and groans in solidarity. We get that periods happen. We get that they’re annoying disruptions, but we don’t give them much more thought than that. We simply pull out our box of pads, tampons, or cup and get on with life. It’s that easy.
When I think about it, the biggest obstacle my period presents to me is that I'll probably experience some cramps or I might eat way more chocolate than I should. And to be perfectly honest sometimes I’ll use my period as an excuse to indulge (and by sometimes, I mean all times
). I’ll feel a bit off for a few days, but once it passes I’m completely fine. Life goes on.
But in other parts of the world, periods aren’t just a mild inconvenience. They're not just something that women and girls can casually brush off.
Periods can be a source of shame. They can lead to disease. Periods can stop girls from attending school. Periods can mean the difference between getting an education - and not.
Sound crazy? Here are some reasons why:
Not everyone has access to sanitary pads, tampons or cups.
While we can simply pop down to the shops and pick up our favourite brand of pads, liners, tampons, or even cups - many women and girls just don't have access to these. It may because they're not readily available, or that their financial situation puts them out of their reach. There are also many cultural taboos against products like tampons and cups, so for many women and girls these aren't a real option.
In place of these items women and girls can use paper, old cloth, bark, or leaves to manage their period. These methods are often unhygienic, unsafe - and most just don't work.
Women and girls can experience rashes, and infections from using these methods - as well as discomfort and shame.
Not all schools are girl-friendly.
Knowing I have awesome things like pads and tampons to manage my period is only half the equation. I also rely on having clean, accessible and safe toilets nearby. And that's usually the case - if I'm at school, Uni, work, or even in public I can always somewhere suitable. But for many girls in developing countries this isn't the case. Not having a separate, private and clean toilet facility for girls is a major factor in why having their period means missing out on school for girls.
There are many studies
showing the decline of girls attendance to school coinciding with their periods. We've heard stories from our scholars saying they've avoided going to school while they're on their period for fear of leaking through their dresses (without adequate ways to manage their period, this is pretty much guaranteed) and being teased or mocked by the boys in their class.
estimates that 1 in 10 girls across Africa will miss classes or drop out of school due to their period.
“Wait, what’s a period?”
Getting your period for the first time can be a daunting experience for any girl
– but imagine if you didn’t know what was happening? You might think there was something wrong with you that you were sick or injured, or even that you were being punished. A recent study
showed that 48% of girls in Iran, 10% in India and 7% in Afghanistan believe that menstruation is a disease.
A lack of general education about the issue, on top of existing cultural taboos around periods, means that there are a lot of myths and misinformation spread about periods and what they are. It can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment and physical and social exclusion.
For these reasons, and so many more today we're saying that Menstruation Matters.
It matters for the women and girls who experience shame and embarrassment every month for something that is normal, natural and healthy. It matters for their health, their dignity and their ability to live, learn and work to their fullest potential. Menstrual health and hygiene isn't just a girl's issue, or a women's issue
- if half the population is being held back, then the whole population is affected. Bringing boys and men into the conversation is a key if progress is to be made.
Check out the factsheets put together for Menstrual Hygiene Day
and join the conversation on Twitter by using the #MenstruationMatters