Menstrual Health Day, 28 May 2015: Stigmas surrounding menstruation are having a detrimental impact on girls’ futures, says child rights organisation Plan International, as the world marks Menstrual Hygiene Day today.
For 2 billion women and girls worldwide, menstruation is a monthly reality. Yet in many low-income countries, women and girls still face serious challenges when it comes to managing their periods.
According to a study from the UN, one out of three girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation prior to getting it, while 48% of girls in Iran and 10% of girls in India believe menstruation is a disease.
Forced to use rags or leaves
“Many girls around the world still lack access to affordable 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 leaks and infections,” said Darren Saywell, Plan International USA’s Director of Water, Sanitation and Health.
“Girls also lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products.
women and girls often face harsh social taboos about menstruation which excludes them from certain activities, such as cooking or praying – and in some cases going to school
“To make matters worse, women and girls often face harsh social taboos about menstruation which excludes them from certain activities, such as cooking or praying – and in some cases going to school.”
This situation can have a negative impact on girls and young women. Many young 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 return to education, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations,” says Saywell.
When Christine, 17, from Uganda first got her period, her mother warned that she might fall pregnant if she slept with a boy – or even worse. “My mother told me to avoid going out at night as I could be raped,” says the teenager.
Additionally, a wide range of cultural taboos and social stigmas attached to menstruation can also impact the lives of women and girls. In places such as Nepal, many families in rural areas observe the tradition of ‘chhaupadi’ where in menstruating women and girls are isolated into separate huts or cowsheds. Other restrictions menstruating girls and women face include not being allowed to prepare food, wash their bodies, or enter places of worship.
For Trem, 14, from Cambodia, menstruation still 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,” says Trem. “Luckily, my home is not far from school, but others aren’t so fortunate. Some children’s houses are very far, so they don’t bother coming back to school.”
In order to in order to improve health and increase school attendance of girls, Plan International is committed to addressing the social beliefs and norms that causes stigma and social shaming when it comes to menstruation.
Together with local governments and schools, Plan is training district health workers, teachers and village volunteers. The organisation is also distributing menstrual health hygiene materials in schools, holding community theatre shows and hosting radio shows on the topic.
Various menstrual health hygiene projects have been set up across Asia and Africa, providing women and girls with hygienic solutions. From distributing hygiene kits to girls affected by disasters to constructing child-friendly toilets in schools, Plan International is engaging with communities to break the taboos surrounding menstruation.
In India, Plan is building separate toilets for boys and girls, so girls to go to when they are menstruating.
In Uganda, Plan has partnered with local social enterprise AFRIpads, to help girls and women better manage their menstruation. AFRIpads trains Ugandan women to manufacture reusable sanitary pads, then Plan purchases the pads and sells them to local vendors at a subsidised rate.
This allows vendors to sell pads to girls and women in the surrounding areas for an affordable price and still make a profit. The project is improving access to sanitary pads, while providing vendors with a reliable source of income.
Learn more about Plan International's work on menstrual hygiene management