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Attitudes towards menstruation, and inadequate hygiene facilities, are having a detrimental impact on girls’ ability to make important decisions about their sexual health and well-being.

A menstrual hygiene club meeting taking place at a school in Uganda
A menstrual hygiene management club meeting taking place at a school in Uganda.

For 2 billion women and girls worldwide, menstruation is a monthly reality. Yet in many low-income countries, they still face serious challenges when it comes to managing their periods.

MANAGING MENSTRUATION

According to a study from UNICEF, 1 in 3 girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation prior to having their first period.

Many girls still lack access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products. Instead, they are forced to use improvised materials such as rags or leaves. Not only are they uncomfortable but they can lead to infections.

When I have my period, I have to go home

Girls also lack access to safe, private toilets with clean water to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products.

To make matters worse, women and girls often face social taboos about menstruation which exclude them from certain activities in their communities. In rural Nepal, many families observe a tradition called ‘chhaupadi’ which isolates girls and women during their periods.

Join the girls' rights movement Many girls are forced to skip school during their period as they are embarrassed or do not have access to the facilities they need, while others drop out altogether. When girls drop out of school at an early age, they are less likely to return, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations.

Trem, 14, from Cambodia, says menstruation affects her studies. “When I have my period, I have to go home to change my sanitary pad as we don’t have the facilities I need at school.”

BREAKING DOWN TABOOS

Girls singing songs about menstrual hygiene to encourage open discussions
Girls singing songs about menstrual hygiene to encourage open discussions on the topic.

Because I am a Girl is committed to addressing the social beliefs and stigmas surrounding menstruation. Together with local governments and schools we are training district health workers, teachers and volunteers. We also distribute menstrual hygiene materials in schools and teach girls how to manage their periods so they feel confident and stay in school.

In Uganda, we have partnered with local social enterprise AFRIpads to help girls and women improve their menstrual hygiene management. AFRIpads trains women to manufacture reusable sanitary pads. We then purchase the pads and sell them to local vendors at a subsidised rate. This allows vendors to sell pads for an affordable price and still make a profit. Maureen, 16, is back in school full-time since using AFRIpads and says, “All the girls come to school every day and our grades are better.”

By breaking down stigmas and supporting girls' menstrual hygiene management, we are helping them stay in school and decide their futures free from discrimination.

Join the Because I am a Girl movement for girls’ rights