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Period Poverty in MadagascarOn 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
Photo: Flickr

Menstruation Education and Poverty
Each day, more than 800 million women and girls menstruate, yet people often leave periods out of conversations regarding poverty, global health and progress. Menstruation, education and poverty link together. Most who menstruate experience their first period between ages 10 and 16. Menstruation can cause other complications for children already in poverty. Despite efforts to include menstruation in these conversations, stigma and shame still often prevail when discussions arise.

In order to have a healthy period, people need access to clean water and sanitation. More than 35 percent of the world’s population lack these necessities. Without necessary hygiene measures, menstruation can result in illness and death.

Menstruation, Education and Poverty

In addition to these concerns about physical well-being and safety, menstruation can negatively affect a child’s education in a number of ways. Lack of proper sanitation and menstrual hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary pads can lead to missed school days around the time of a period.

When logistical concerns combine with the common stigma about periods and menstruation, people who menstruate miss out on valuable education. In Ghana, a nation where 8 percent of people live in extreme poverty, over 95 percent of students who menstruate reported frequent absences from school due to their period.

Fighting Back

While stigma and the lack of access to sanitary products continue to be a problem, various global initiatives are acting to combat this threat to health and safety. In 2013, the German nonprofit WASH United named May 28th Menstrual Hygiene Day, aiming to educate the public and fight stigmatization around menstruation globally.

May 28th is more than just a day to educate and enact action. It also symbolically ties to menstruation. May, the fifth month of the year, represents the average of five days that menstruation lasts each cycle. The number 28 represents the average length in days of a menstrual cycle.

WASH United is not the only organization realizing the importance of including menstruation in the conversations surrounding poverty and global health. The global nonprofit PERIOD is working to provide quality menstrual care, education and opportunities for those who menstruate. The Pad Project works on the ground in impoverished areas installing sustainable, locally sourced machines that produce pads, creating both necessary sanitary products and jobs. These two nonprofits both additionally stress the importance of proper menstrual care in order to ensure that menstruation does not limit a child’s education.

Looking Forward

Menstruation is not just a concern for the 26 percent of the global population who experiences it. There is a great need for education on the process and common challenges of menstruation in order to improve health and access to necessary care. In the fight to improve menstrual health around the globe, it is imperative that people teach menstruation as a natural, biological process that is healthy for the body, and not something that is shameful or unsanitary.

When people who menstruate have confidence in the tools they use during their period, as well as access to basic needs of water and sanitation, then menstruation, education and poverty can begin to destigmatize and children can face less of a barrier in obtaining the schooling, comfort and safety they deserve.

Elizabeth Reece Baker
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

poverty-fighting poetry
Poetry can offer a vision of a more just and fair world, a world which often runs contrary to conventional and established socioeconomic norms. For centuries, poets have used their pens to dispel myths and misconceptions about the poor with poverty-fighting poetry. Especially in the camp of written works, representations of poverty have caused a rift between poetry and the well-circulated novels and plays of renown authors and playwrights. The cryptic undertones of poetry force us to internalize and think about the hardships associated with poverty, while many novels and plays simply use poverty as a setting, or a stage on which authors and playwrights can effectively deploy their storylines.

Poverty-Fighting Poetry

Today, young people are harnessing the power of poetry to emphasize the burdens of poverty and to champion for a better world. Poetry competitions not only serve as a forum to advocate for change but as a means of giving back to the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Poetry at Menstrual Hygiene Day

In the United Kingdom, the Women and Girls organization launched a poetry competition for Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28th) in which British youth were encouraged to write poems about period poverty. The goal of the organization and of the poetry competition is to expand access to sanitary protection and menstrual hygiene products for impoverished women in India. In many parts of South Asia, it is considered taboo to openly talk about menstruation and to even search for period products. This lack of understanding of the importance of female hygiene promotes the inability of women to care for themselves while on their periods, a plight commonly known as period poverty.

One of the judges of the competition, Perdita Cargill, thinks that poetry will help break down misunderstandings of menstruation and barriers to menstrual hygiene: “Let’s talk about periods and write poems about them and do whatever we can to help others get the fair access to sanitary protection they need for dignity and health.” Poverty-fighting poetry encompasses a breadth of struggles related to various forms of impoverishment, from period poverty to more common perceptions of poverty, such as economic inequality and hunger.

The Steps to Happiness Event

In Florence, Italy, the Lorenzo de’Medici school recently held The Steps to Happiness event where students wrote poems to inspire other young people to join Malala Yousafzai’s campaign to provide education for all. The winner of the competition, Katelin Pierce, captures the essence of expanding educational opportunities for young girls:

“These little girls may have little voices

but they have large hearts and many hands

and they grab all they can of letters and words and ideas

whispered to them in hushed tones.”

Hunger in the UK

Another poetry competition in the United Kingdom merged the Young Poets Network with End Hunger UK to address the crisis of food poverty in Britain. Statistics cited by the End Hunger organization claim that 1 in 4 parents with children aged 18 and under skip meals because they lack financial means; in fact, the United Kingdom falls only behind Albania as the second most food insecure country in Europe. The Young Poets Network and End Hunger UK teamed up to challenge British writers aged 11-25 to write about their personal experiences with food insecurity and to offer solutions to solve the food crisis. While poverty-fighting poetry enables young people to speak about their struggles with impoverishment, it also builds bridges of understanding and empathy.

These examples are all instances of poverty-fighting poetry that challenge traditional notions of which means can and cannot be used to address issues of global poverty. Innovative humanities-based approaches to poverty can accomplish something that more clinical and statist-based approaches cannot offer: understanding.

Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty
With pertinent issues like gender-based violence and discrimination coming to the forefront, period poverty is becoming a key aspect of fighting gender inequality globally. Period poverty, another key facet that one can classify as the feminization of poverty, is the inaccessibility and lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products and supplies for women and girls.

The Status Quo of Period Poverty

Even though period poverty is a significant issue to tackle, unlike other women’s issues and struggles, the stigma attached to period and menstruation remains a rather strong barrier to remediating the problem. In May 2018, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) reported on the menstrual stigma and taboo in East and Southern Africa, highlighting impacts like women’s health risks and human rights violations.

Among developing countries, in particular, the stigma against menstruation deeply entrenches in culture and religion as the taboo regarding periods has been a long-term stigma for many years. The patriarchal dominance that continues to exist among communities across the world is aggravating the problem further.

For example, countries like Nepal still practice Chhaupadi, which is a regressive yet common practice where women must confine themselves to a specific part of the house during their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, over 60 percent of teachers in Sri Lanka perceived menstrual blood as impure in some way. Women and girls in sub-Saharan African countries also face the impacts of this issue.

Impacts on Education

Most importantly, period poverty can be a major social impediment to girl’s education as young girls from poorer social-economic backgrounds often miss a lot of school as they face difficulties in coping with their cycle.

According to a 2014 study conducted by UNESCO, one in every 10 girls face menstrual problems and have to miss out on school. Often women and girls use mud, leaves, paper and animal skins to stem menstrual flow as resources are often scarce. In countries like Sri Lanka, pads and other sanitary products often receive a heavy tax, despite the fact that the taxation on menstrual products has decreased to around 63 percent in recent years.

Current Progress and Initiatives

Yet, more recently, in a revolutionary move, India’s Supreme Court was proud to declare a renouncement of the ban on menstruating women, citing not only its constitutional immorality but also the religious and social constraints it imposes on women. The announcement stated that the state had the duty to protect and safeguard the rights and freedoms of women.

Additionally, Alstons Marketing Company Limited (AMCO) recently embarked on the End Poverty Initiative to distribute over 115,000 pads to girls in Trinidad and Tobago. The Kenyan government is offering assistance to girls by subsiding menstrual hygiene products and removing the imposition of the VAT (Value Added Tax).

The U.K. has additionally launched a global fund to eliminate period poverty by the year 2050. The government is pledging over 2 million pounds to aid international organizations and assist in other global initiatives to tackle the stigma associated with menstruation and the period taboo.

As advocacy and awareness-building remain pivotal, May 28 is now Menstrual Hygiene Day. Globally, organizations like Period Equity are helping to bridge the gaps and make menstrual hygiene and care more affordable.

Community-based initiatives and grassroots activities may be a long-term solution to the problem. The provision of WASH services is also essential as it ensures greater menstrual hygiene and will eliminate health risks among communities by monitoring waste management systems and building functional toilets.

Preventing the debilitation of period poverty is of paramount importance for future social development and progress to improve the overall status of women. It will help solve other associated issues like girl’s education, mobility and health care and ensure greater participation of women in the economy and the workforce.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

menstrual hygieneMenstruation is a normal part of being a young woman, but many feel ashamed and often won’t go to school because of it. Silence about the issue has also led to poor reproductive health practices and gender disparity in the workforce. However, some people have chosen to speak out. In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) partnered with U-Report Global to promote discussion about the struggles that come with being a girl. This collaboration has challenged the stigma surrounding menstruation and sought to reinvent the societal norm.

Menstrual Hygiene Day

Menstrual Hygiene Day was founded by a German nonprofit called WASH United. The movement promotes advocacy for women’s reproductive health and urges political leaders to make it a priority. Advocacy efforts have ranged from individual voices to nonprofit organizations to government agencies. Participation has increased with every year. In 2016, 34 countries held 180 events, growing to 54 countries and 350 events in 2017. This year, 475 events were hosted in 70 countries.

U-Report Global, created by UNICEF, is a mobile platform that encourages youth to use social media to discuss issues relevant to their communities. The goal is to give kids the power to create social change and promote democracy among political leaders. Some countries have already seen the impact of U-Report’s polling system. In Liberia, 86 percent of U-Reporters said that “sex for grades” is a prevalent issue in their schools. Because of this, UNICEF staff met with the Minister of Education about how to address the problem.

Giving African Women a Voice

In alliance with U-Report’s mission, WAGGGS has used polls to give young women in Africa a voice. The results show that 59 percent of female respondents reported receiving an adequate amount menstrual education, 31 percent reported not having enough education, and 11 percent said they had received none. One in five girls had said the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene prevented them from seeking proper sanitary products. The polls also reported one in three respondents believing that menstruating women get unfair treatment. These results were used to encourage decision makers to offer more support to menstruating girls and encourage their school attendance.

Other groups like Speak Up Africa have contributed to the empowerment of young girls by providing menstrual education. They set up classes at the National Girls’ Camp in Sierra Leone, which dedicates itself to promoting a positive self-image and making smart decisions about reproductive health. First Lady H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma oversees this camp and other programs to benefit girls.

Respondents in Africa have told U-Report that girls should not feel ashamed of something that is normal. Many believe in the power of education to not only teach girls about menstrual health but let everyone know that it’s not dirty. Testimonies on WAGGGS show that the health of menstruating girls involves more than just teaching them how to use a pad; it’s about addressing gender inequality too.

– Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

period_panties
May 28th marks Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day of awareness seeking to break the taboo that exists in cultures and societies around the world. Menstrual Hygiene Day also seeks to raise awareness about the importance of good menstrual hygiene management (MHM).

Why is this so important?

Menstrual Hygiene is fundamental to education, the economy, health, the environment and human rights. Below are some statistics:

  1. Education: UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 African teen girls will miss school because of their period and eventually drop out. These girls are still having to use socks filled with ash to manage their periods.
  2. Economy: In Bangladesh, garment workers miss work for an average of six unpaid days per month due to vaginal infections.
  3. Health: Poor menstrual hygiene not only affects physical health but also social and mental well-being.
  4. Environment: The average North American woman will use and throw away about 13,000 tampons and pads in her lifetime.
  5. Human Rights: A lack of adequate menstrual hygiene management denies women and girls their right to education, right to health and right to work in favorable conditions.

What is THINX?

A new company is trying to break the taboo surrounding menstruation, which is usually referred to as the “week of shame” in developing countries. THINX has designed period-proof underwear that they claim protects from leaks and keeps you dry.

The idea emerged when wearing a white skirt to a meeting and was developed over the course of three years of research by three women in New York City who sought underwear that was reliable during their periods. The end result is stain-resistant, anti-microbial, leak-resistant, absorbent underwear with a moisture-wicking layer.

THINX claims they can replace tampons and pads if you’re comfortable doing so. It offers underwear designed for light, medium and heavy days, with the level of absorbency ranging from one half, one, and two tampons worth or absorbency, respectively. They wash just like regular underwear, just cold wash and hang dry.

For the 80 percent of American women who have had accidents and have expressed anxiety during their periods, these period-proof panties may seem like a good investment.

How does your purchase help girls in the developing world?

The three women behind THINX love to travel. While they were in Africa, they met a young girl named Amale on a weekday, asked her why she wasn’t in school, and she said, “It’s my week of shame.” Amale misses about one week of school each month due to her period. She uses things she can find such as sticks, leaves, mud and dirty rags.

The women decided to partner with AFRIpads, an organization based in Uganda that makes washable, reusable cloth pads at an affordable price. The result is that for every pair of underwear you buy, seven washable, reusable pads will be produced for one woman. THINX felt that instead of giving them away, they are helping this movement grow by creating jobs for local women who make these pads and their girls can go to school with no shame. The underwear are currently made in a family-run factory in Sri Lanka.

THINX has received reviews from companies such as ELLE calling them “magic panties” and Fast Company saying they are “ingeniously designed.”

Considering that a woman throws away five or more pairs of underwear every year, it would be a better and more thoughtful investment to buy period panties that are stain-resistant and that help women and girls around the world.

Paula Acevedo

Sources: Thinx, Menstrual Hygiene Day
Photo: Menstrual Hygiene Day