I am a female, and I find getting my period a big hassle.
I am also a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) researcher in developed and developing countries, and I get to speak to women around the globe who don’t have the comfort of Nurofen, wheat heats and chocolate to deal with “that time of the month”. A lot of them don’t even have the convenience of somewhere to wash their hands before changing their pad, tampon or menstrual cup.
I am a Board Member of Share the Dignity and Strategic Advisor to the Secretariat of Menstrual Hygiene Day because I strongly believe that women everywhere should be able to manage their period with comfort and dignity. Yet here are some facts which may shock you:
Where women do not have access to affordable, hygienic and safe products and facilities, they use whatever they can find to manage their flow. This includes things such as old rags, husks, dried leaves, grass, ash, sand or newspapers. This practice is not confined to developing countries: homeless women in Australia have also been known to use such measures;
An overwhelming amount of girls have never even heard of menstruation when they experience their first period!
Some have heard of it but have been told it is a disease;
In some cultures it is a common belief that women don’t begin menstruating until they have lost their virginity- which can lead to cruel and harsh punishments, often by male family members;
Although it is illegal, in some areas of Nepal women are banished from their households whilst they bleed, which results in physical and emotional isolation, and exposes women to unhygienic conditions and wild animal attacks;
Where female genital mutilation is practiced, women may have such a small opening left to urinate and menstruate through that their periods can last for three weeks, which is uncomfortable and can lead to infection;
Where hygienic and private toilet facilities are not provided, pubescent girls often do not attend school during their period, or drop out altogether.
None of these things are ok, and there are amazing organisations around the world working on programs to change these conditions, including the United Nations Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council who, amongst other things, work on advocacy programs to encourage governments to include Menstrual Hygiene Management in national policies (and they are succeeding! Since 2013 Menstrual Hygiene Management has been part of India’s Sanitation Policy).
Most of us don’t work for the UN. But all of us can make a difference, starting here in Australia.
We need to change the way that menstruation is talked about in our society. Teenage girls should not be teased about being “on their rags”, and women of all ages should not be discriminated against during this time. Stories abound from women and girls who have suffered in silence for fear of embarrassment around admitting that they have their period and could use a little kindness. But why is menstruation such a taboo topic?
I know that most of the people who read this blog will be female – menstruation is not something our male companions will ever experience firsthand, and it may not even be on their radar as a global issue. But it is crucial that we engage men and boys in discussions around menstrual hygiene – after all, they all have women they care about, and they’re all here because their mother menstruated.
So go ahead, get the conversation started – for me a random question about the “Menstrual Hygiene Awareness” bracelet I was wearing at Christmas breakfast was my opportunity to open up lines of communication with my grandfather, who coincidentally has three daughters and three granddaughters. Despite his obvious discomfort as we munched on croissants last year, he is now posting on Facebook against the “Tampon Tax”.
If you’re really keen, encourage the men in your life to follow in the footsteps of 15-year-old Joss Garcia, who carries sanitary products in his school bag for when his female friends are in need, and has been calling on other boys to do the same.
And of course, please take the time to donate to Share the Dignity, either by placing sanitary items in the bins at one of our Collection Sites or online via Tsuno. Better still, begin a collection in your own workplace!
No woman should ever suffer the indignity of not being able to manager her period privately and hygienically.