Every month, girls and women from around the world, regardless of race, religion, caste or creed, will experience something unique to women. Without this, human beings would not exist, because this is a sign that women are able to produce life. What is this special thing? Can you guess?
It is a period. P-E-R-I-O-D.
A period is a visual sign that a woman’s reproductive system is functioning properly, that a woman can have a baby if she wishes, and in my community, it’s a sign that a girl has transitioned from girlhood to womanhood. A period is a completely natural process. But why is it that some women and girls are ostracized in their communities every month because of this?
I asked a young woman about her menstrual health. She said,
“When I got my period, I was very young and my mother had not told me anything about it. I was so scared and I didn’t know what had happened to me. When I asked my mother, she just laughed and gave me some cloth and told me to use that. I didn’t go to school for a whole week because I was scared that if I stained myself, (the students) would laugh at me. Soon after that, I stopped going to school completely. But now, it’s much better. I can use the sanitary towels and it is much nicer than using the old cloths and rags. But I only discovered this when I came to the city. Many girls and women in the (rural) areas continue to use old rags and cloths and this can lead to infection.”
Access to clean and private bathrooms with running water and soap is rare in many communities. In Burkina Faso, only 17% of girls have a place in their school to change their sanitary materials. This makes it even more difficult for girls to want to go to school during their periods. UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 African girls will miss school during menses and will eventually drop out of school.
In some areas of Nepal, girls are confined indoors each time they menstruate. In many rural villages in Eastern Nigeria girls are warned from their mothers to “stay away from boys, because if they touch you, will become pregnant.” The lack of adequate information and the ‘culture of silence’ surrounding menstruation means that girls do not have access to information about menstruation, menstrual hygiene and about their sexual and reproductive health. Only 2.5% of girls in South Asia knew that menstrual blood came from the uterus.
Menstruation is a barrier to girls’ education and can no longer be a taboo subject.
We must talk about it. Menstruation should be considered a natural and a beautiful process. We need to break the silence surrounding Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) so that girls are not subjected to discrimination or forced to stay at home and drop out of school because of a biological process.