The right to hygienic menstruation products may seem like something everyone might agree with. However, this is not the case for millions of women and girls globally. Today, there are about 500 million women and girls suffering from period poverty worldwide. Period poverty does not only pose a huge health risk, but it also affects girls’ whole livelihood.
In Bangladesh, period poverty is visible throughout communities, as many people see menstruation products as a privilege rather than a right. Moreover, approximately 95% of the female population cannot afford sanitary pads, leading to illnesses and increased absences from school or work. The cultural beliefs and social norms place an enormous burden on menstruating women, limiting their participation in the community and preventing real progress from occurring. Here is some information about menstruation and period poverty in Bangladesh.
In Bengali culture, society believes that menstruation is an evil and shameful thing. For example, the women of the northern Bangladesh village, Char Bramagacha menstruate in secret. Women, fearing that evil spirits will attach to their blood, bury their old menstrual cloths in the ground and wash the new cloths before anyone in the village is awake. This behavior is not unique to just this village. The taboos around menstruation are ubiquitous throughout the country and culture. Shopna, a 14-year old Bengali girl, describes being taught that while menstruating, “Hindu girls can’t touch cows or even the cow-shed because cows are holy.”
With only 6% of schools in Bangladesh providing menstrual hygiene education, the immense shame regarding menstruation remains stagnant. Many girls are unaware of how to properly manage their period, while 36% of girls are oblivious about what a period is. Ultimately, this lack of information leads to one in four girls skipping school during their period. By increasing education about menstruation, girls can become more aware of their natural cycles, learn to properly manage them and lessen the shame that comes with menstruating.
There are many different layers to menstruation health management, including proper facilities, hygienic products and access to menstruation information. A survey by the World Bank uncovered that on average, Bangladesh households have a challenging time of satisfying all needs for proper menstruation hygiene. In fact, only 23% of women used proper menstrual products. Instead, most of the female population reuses old cloths that they frequently improperly wash or dry, resulting in a higher risk of urinary infections. A lack of hygienic latrines places another burden on women who try their best to hide the fact that they menstruate. In the village Char Bramagacha, there are only 22 hygienic toilets in comparison to the 308 unhygienic ones. These toilets often comprise of bamboo and cloth and do not offer any privacy for women to regularly change their menstrual cloths. Because of the lack of hygiene and privacy, many women miss school or work.
3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty
- Bangladesh WASH Alliance: The Bangladesh WASH Alliance works to promote inclusive and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services. In the past six years, the organization has been able to grant 248,837 people access to improved sanitation facilities and 229,989 people with improved water resources. By providing access to hygienic facilities, women have a lesser chance of health risks and absences. The WASH Alliance is also working towards improving gender inequality by expanding women’s social participation and gender-equal practices in WASH businesses.
- PERIOD: To combat period poverty and the stigma around menstruation, high schoolers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand established PERIOD, a nonprofit organization that offers homeless women proper menstrual products. As of today, PERIOD has been able to assist approximately 1.2 million women in accessing the proper products for a safe, hygienic period cycle.
- Resurgence: Resurgence, founded by three university activists, is another organization working to combat period poverty within Bangladesh. This group has distributed and produced low-cost menstruation pads for thousands of women and girls. Resurgence has achieved this by utilizing an otherwise invasive plant called the water hyacinth as its primary material. It also employs women from these communities to handle the production and distribution of its water hyacinth pads throughout slums, rural areas and other affected locations.
Although societal beliefs place a big burden on the fight against period poverty, Bangladesh is still stepping in the right direction by increasing education about menstrual health and placing international support on gender inequality. Ultimately, the most effective way to combat period poverty has been through foreign aid with a focus on eliminating improper hygiene facilities and misinformation.
– Maiya Falach