Menstruation. Caadada. Ho ilela khoeli. Menstruación. Hedhi. Osu. Kinh nguyệt. Menses. Haid. Every language has its own word or phrase to describe the natural and biological process of menstruation that young girls and women experience every month. Though a well-known phenomenon, having your period is still a taboo in many cultures and seen as primarily the women’s domain. So let’s celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day and educate one another on the topic, because menstruation matters. Period.
Despite growing recognition of the issue of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in schools and beyond, the commonalities of experiences for women and girls across vastly different contexts is apparent. Across several countries in Africa and Asia, we have documented the challenges girls experience in managing their menstruation, without adequate information, with inappropriate and unhygienic menstrual hygiene products, and in an atmosphere of silence, taboo and humiliation. This is further exacerbated by poor or absent facilities in schools and work places that fail to provide adequate means for managing menstruation hygienically, and in privacy.
“When I’m on monthly periods I don’t go to school because the boys in my class always laugh at me. I usually use cloths or old newspapers but since they can’t hold the flow of blood, I end up staining my uniforms and feel very embarrassed.” – Joan, Uganda
"We need to work to take care of our families and simply deal with it. We have very little money, so we often cannot spend that on expensive sanitary products. We will resort to pieces of cloth or other available materials. What I think we need most is information on menstruation and training in hygienic practices.” – Sathi, Bangladesh
“In our society menstrual blood is treated as unclean and harmful. When I’m on periods I’m not allowed to go to church because it’s believed that I’ll be unclean. The problem is that my parents never taught me anything about being on periods, I only read about it at school. When I’m on menses I’m also restricted from participating in some activities for fear that I may contaminate others and the things that I may touch.” – Pretty, Zimbabwe
School girls making reusable pads
At SNV, we believe good MHM plays a fundamental role in girls’ educational performance, and in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. That is why we have developed an integrated rights-based approach at scale to improve safe MHM, through both:
- integrating MHM within our ongoing Sustainable Sanitation & Hygiene for All (SSH4A) programme in Nepal, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia; and
- strategically investing in MHM initiatives such as Girls in Control, a multi-country programme intervention using a common framework to improve MHM in schools in Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
We focus on the provision of appropriate, girl-friendly water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, timely information about MHM and improved access to sanitary materials.
In Bhutan, school principal Sonam Choki, relays how every day of the month her mother told her to hold her head up high and face the world. “She educated me that periods are natural, and my periods are not for hiding.” As actor Tandin Wangchuk and SNV WASH adviser Thinley Dem add: “Let’s talk more about periods, so that there is a pre-discussion between a mother and a daughter, a father and a daughter, a brother and a sister, and a teacher and a student.”
In Zimbabwe, as local WASH chairperson of the Masvingo Rural District Council, Emmanuel Gundani talks about the success of the Girls in Control programme: “For the first time in the history of our schools, we are going to introduce incinerators and plastic bins in girls' toilets where they can dispose of their pads. We are also constructing bigger latrines fitted with steel doors, locks, and small plastic water tanks to be used for washing purposes.”
In Tanzania, Auma and Immaculate talk excitedly about how they no longer have to worry. Auma: “Pads have made my periods manageable and I can focus on school. All the members of a community need to be involved in helping us girls stay in school.” Immaculate adds, “My mother and sisters were very open to me about menstruation and taught me early enough about what to expect and what products to use. This made me secure when I started my periods.”
Remember, periods are not just the women’s domain. Together we can change, from taboo to empowerment, from shame to acceptance, and from fear to confidence. From absent to present, from dislike to I like, from rags to pads, and from sick rooms to bathrooms!
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global platform that brings together non-profits, governments, the private sector, media and individuals to catalyse progress towards a world in which all women and girls manage their menstruation hygienically, with confidence, with dignity and without stigma. For more information, please visit http://menstrualhygieneday.org/