On May 28, 2019, Madagascar celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day and ran a menstrual health workshop to formally begin combating period poverty.
What is Period Poverty?
The difficulty of women living in poverty, or on a very low income, face when trying to access menstrual products is referred to as period poverty. The cost of menstrual products and the financial burden is also factored into the definition. Period poverty affects women around the globe and can impact things like a woman’s ability to attend school or work. According to the American Medical Women’s Association, due to a lack of education about menstruation, two out of three girls in other countries may avoid going to school.
How Periods and Poverty Connect
According to the African Development Fund, ”the absence of economic infrastructure,” including water, sanitation, education and basic health services, among others are closely connected to poverty in Madagascar, specifically in rural areas. A 2019 helpdesk report by Kerina Tull of the University of Leeds Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development reported that menstrual hygiene management includes women’s ability to:
- Change sanitary products as often as needed;
- Access adequate disposal facilities as well as the necessary sanitation, such as soap and clean water; and
- Find information, without fear or discomfort, about how to manage their menstruation.
In Madagascar, poverty can be a barrier to accessing both sanitation and education. UNICEF reported that only about 10% of people in Madagascar uses basic sanitation facilities. Of the rural population, UNICEF reported that only 36% can access “improved water sources.” For every three children in Madagascar, UNICEF reported that only one completes primary education, and families pay for 40% of the continuing costs of education.
Combating Period Poverty in Madagascar
While some girls can begin menstruating at the age of 8, schools in southeast Madagascar often don’t teach about menstruation until students are 13 years old. This education can come too late for some girls.
In March 2019, SEED Madagascar worked with Mpanazava Eto Madagasikara (MEM) to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day and run a workshop on menstruation. Around 50 women between the ages of 10 and 23 in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar talked with SEED staff about the reproductive system and puberty. The workshop ran for three hours. It addressed topics like pregnancy, while also debunking some myths about menstruation, such as common beliefs about the age everyone gets their period.
When asked about products used during menstruation, most participants spoke about how “single-use” items such as tampons were unaffordable and that they often used square pieces of cloth or “reusable pads.” Participants were encouraged to share what they had learned at the workshop with other members of the community. The workshop was referred to as a “first step” to combating period poverty by improving the information available to women in Madagascar about their period.
Period poverty is an issue that impacts women globally. In Madagascar, poverty can make it harder for women to access necessary sanitation as well as education about menstruation. The workshop SEED Madagascar and MEM ran in 2019 are a hopeful step toward combating period poverty in Madagascar.
– Melody Kazel