From adolescence to middle age, women around the world are on their period for a quarter of every month. Cumulatively, that means a woman will spend 10 years of her life actively menstruating. A woman’s ability to persist in normal activities during this decade holds serious implications for her emotional, intellectual and economic well-being.
The Ripple Effect of Period Poverty in Morocco
In Morocco, more than 6 million people do not have access to basic goods making it exceedingly difficult for young women from low-income families to afford menstrual supplies. This lack of access to pads, coupled with deeply-rooted social stigmas and a general lack of puberty education, causes girls to miss several days of school every month.
Gaps in school attendance cause girls to fall behind, experience a lack of intellectual confidence and sometimes even drop out. The ripple effects of an incomplete education are vast, including vulnerability to child marriage and child labor and reduced chances of future social mobility.
Cultural Stigma Perpetuates Period Poverty
Many communities, including Morocco, suffer intense cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation. A pervasive misconception is that women should not bathe while they menstruate, which not only can cause health issues but can exacerbate shame —dissuading girls from going out in public while on their periods.
A lack of transparent education regarding menstruation allows for these fallacies to survive from generation to generation. As of 2021, Morocco had a population of about 3 million adolescents and young girls and “half of them were shocked to get their first period,” according to Morocco World News.
A Moroccan woman shared her experience about her first period with UNFPA, stating, “I told my mother. She gave me an old piece of cloth and refused to buy me sanitary napkins and forbade me from eating dinner that night.” The woman continued to reflect on menstruating under the pressures of social stigmas, admitting, “I felt I was an outcast. My period every month became an unbearable hell.”
New Era Epitomizes Civil Efforts to Fight Period Poverty
New Era, a Moroccan social movement, is confronting rural period poverty head-on by distributing menstrual underwear and pain medication to women in Casablanca’s Sidi Moumen community. In partnership with the Oum Kaltoum Foundation, the organization provides supplies to women who cannot afford or do not have access to hygiene products. As of November 2021, New Era had distributed over 300 pairs of menstrual underwear to women in Ouinskra, a village located 50 miles outside of Marrakesh.
New Era not only disseminates period supplies but runs community discussions to help quell misconceptions and stigmas that amplify the harm of period poverty in Morocco. “At first, women were intimidated, but within minutes, people became more animated, raising multiple questions, which really helped us in the process of raising awareness,” New Era co-founder Nada Chaddadi told Morocco World News.
Period Poverty Reduction Through Project Soar
Maryam Montague first founded Project Soar in 2013, another campaign fighting period poverty in Morocco. Similar to New Era, the organization has a goal to distribute feminine hygiene products and hold workshops to deconstruct social stigmas. The organization has 28 operating chapters across the country.
Project Soar provides young Moroccan women with reusable menstrual kits that last three years with the hopes that school-aged girls will feel confident and comfortable attending class while menstruating. It has also collaborated with Morocco’s Human Rights Council (CNDH) and UNFPA to run menstrual education workshops throughout Morocco, according to Morroco World News. Project Soar’s empowerment workshops have reached 3,543 teen girls throughout Morrocco.
A young woman who participated in the Project Soar education initiative explained she had trouble playing sports since she did not know if she would have leaks when doing certain moves. “However, now I can say that the Be Girl period kit that Project Soar provided me in Module 3: Body helped me to somehow face this fear and live a normal life,” she concludes.
As organizations like New Era and Project Soar launch campaigns confronting period poverty in Morocco, the nation’s mentality surrounding menstruation is rapidly shifting. On May 28, 2021, Morocco celebrated its first-ever World Menstrual Hygiene Day, supporting the international tagline, “Build a world where no one is held back because they menstruate.”
Period poverty in Morocco has been increasingly receiving recognition and treatment as a source of social struggle and gender disparity that deserves earnest attention.
– Elena Unger