Period Poverty in Cambodia
Period poverty affects women and girls around the globe who cannot afford safe, sanitary products or are unable to receive information about safe period practices due to stigma. Poor period hygiene can lead to many health risks, such as urinary tract infections and reproductive infections. About 50% of the people in Cambodia are women, but people do not talk about period poverty as they deem it a taboo subject.

As of 2019, the poverty rate in Cambodia was 12.9%. However, this number could increase to around 20% due to the coronavirus pandemic. This rise in the poverty rate will leave millions of women and girls vulnerable. Here are five facts regarding period poverty in Cambodia.

5 Facts About Period Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Girls are often in shock when they get their first period. Periods in Cambodia are known as “mokrodou” or the coming season. Notably, many public schools do not teach health education or menstrual hygiene. Cambodians view periods as dirty, which makes menstruation a taboo subject within the country. Consequently, mothers pass down information to daughters, which causes the following of cultural, instead of medical norms. Girls may not shower during their period to keep their skin clean. Parents also forbid girls from swimming for fear they will dirty the water. Finally, parents forbid these girls from eating certain foods believed to disrupt the menstrual cycle.
  2. Of schools in Cambodia, 50% do not have a reliable water supply. In addition to not having reliable water, 33% of schools do not have latrines. Period poverty in Cambodia greatly affects girls in school. Even if girls learn about sanitary period practices, it is difficult to maintain sanitation when schools do not have water or toilets. UNICEF has found that a lack of sanitation facilities can increase a girl’s likelihood to skip school during their period. While at school, girls do not have access to clean, sanitary pads or private facilities to properly dispose of products. Therefore, they prefer to use a toilet and have privacy at home.
  3. Most people cannot afford proper sanitary pads. The national poverty line is $0.93 per person, per day. In Cambodia, a pack of six sanitary pads costs around $3 and they are often difficult to find. Consequently, girls and women often use rags for days at a time instead of sanitary products. This, in turn, often leads to infections, which left untreated can cause permanent health problems, like infertility.
  4. Some schools have implemented menstruation education programs. Snor Khley primary school has recognized the issue of period poverty in Cambodia. It has begun to implement menstrual health management classes to help students better manage their periods. The class encourages both boys and girls to talk openly about menstrual health to destigmatize the subject. The school has also introduced new, hygienic school facilities for girls to practice safe hygiene. Additionally, the school distributes the “Growth and Changes Booklet,” which discusses puberty, to all students. The book has helped more than 122,000 students gain a better understanding of the physical and emotional changes that occur during puberty.
  5. Reusable Maxi Pads are emerging as sanitary alternatives. Sovanvotey Hok started a business called Green Lady, which makes environmentally friendly and affordable menstrual products. Apart from making affordable products, the business also employs local housewives to make the products. The reusable pads last up to three years and the business has sold 1,850 pads. Green Lady’s product prevents the use of about 96,000 disposable pads, most of which contain noxious materials such as bleach.

An End to Period Poverty

Period poverty in Cambodia is a threat to women’s health as unsanitary period practices lead to infections. Period poverty also affects women’s ability to receive an education as many schools do not have the proper facilities to support menstruating girls. However, as the use of reusable period products becomes more mainstream and continued education and programs in schools develop — hopefully, the stigma surrounding periods will come to an end.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Flickr

Facts about Sanitation in Indonesia
With 264 million inhabitants, Indonesia is one of the world’s most populous countries. It is also the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with average income levels dramatically increasing in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, millions of Indonesians lack safe water and continue to live with sub-standard sanitation facilities. These 10 facts about sanitation in Indonesia will give a brief overview of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector in this nation.

10 Facts about Sanitation in Indonesia

  1. Open defecation: Almost 25 million Indonesians do not use toilets. Instead, they defecate in open spaces, which can contaminate water sources and expose others to diarrheal diseases. One out of four Indonesian children under the age of 5 suffers from diarrhea, making it the leading cause of child mortality in the country.
  2. Low-quality water: Only 7 percent of wastewater is treated in Indonesia. A 2017 survey in a rich urban center in Java found that nearly 90 percent of water sources and 67 percent of household drinking water were contaminated with fecal bacteria. Another survey conducted by the Indonesia Infrastructure Initiative found that 38 percent of 7,000 households across 22 Indonesian provinces reported issues with their water quality.
  3. Improved water supply access: Indonesia has made moderate but steady progress in improving access to improved water for its population. Around 84 percent of the population had access to improved water supply in 2011, a commendable increase from 70 percent in 1990. While access in urban areas changed very little during this period, from 90 percent to 93 percent, the rural population enjoyed most of the increased access, where the rates increased from 61 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2011.
  4. Improved sanitation access: The rate of access to improved sanitation grew at 6.5 percent annually from 2006 to 2015. However, nearly 100 million people were still living without improved sanitation in 2015, the majority of them from rural areas. While three out of four people in urban areas have access to improved sanitation, less than half of the rural population has such access.
  5. USAID’s effort: USAID is committed to ending preventable child and maternal deaths worldwide by expanding and improving WASH services. In addition to funding innovative microfinance programs, USAID also trained and developed small-scale construction contractors to ensure access to sustainable and safe toilets for these communities. In 2015, USAID has helped more than 2.2 million Indonesians gain access to improved water supply and more than 250,000 people with improved sanitation services.
  6. Economic cost: Approximately $6.3 billion, the equivalent of 2.3 percent of national GDP in Indonesia, is lost due to health and water-related issues. Poor sanitation caused at least 120 million cases of disease and 50,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, costing the nation $3.3 billion annually. The economic costs of polluted water also exceed $1.5 billion per year.
  7. Remote island communities: Remote coastal communities are most affected by the lack of clean water and sanitation services. These communities heavily rely on spring and rainwater, which are inadequate sources in dry seasons, and thus they are forced to use contaminated standing water and seawater. SurfAid, an NGO supported by the Australian government, has partnered with these coastal communities to construct clean water facilities as well as to organize educational campaigns to promote handwashing behaviors and sanitation. The organization has successfully increased access to clean water and sanitation coverage in Nias from 10 percent to 95 percent.
  8. The Citarum River: Around 35 million people residing in the Bandung metropolitan area and the greater Jakarta region heavily depend on the Citarum River for agriculture, water and electricity. However, the water quality of the river has decreased dramatically over the past two decades, making it one of the world’s most polluted rivers with severe pollution from lead, aluminum, manganese and iron. With $500 million in funding from the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank, the Indonesian government declared a seven-year Citarum cleansing program, committing to making Citarum water drinkable by 2025.
  9. Menstrual hygiene: In Indonesia, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene at schools can present great challenges for adolescent girls, especially during menstruation. A survey in 2013 found that most girls never change menstrual pads or cloths at school due to ill-equipped facilities and inadequate water. Only 9 percent of the latrines accessible to girls in urban schools are considered functional, clean and light, posing excessive encumbrance for menstruating girls in the remaining schools. Almost one in seven girls had missed at least one school day during their last period.
  10. Handwashing: The Ministry of Health estimated that only 12 percent of children between the age of 5 and 14 wash their hands with soap after defecating, 14 percent wash their hands with soap before eating and 35 percent wash their hands with soap after eating. Realizing the importance of hygiene promotion in children, Red Cross organizes campaigns in schools that teach basic hygiene principles through different activities such as hygiene kits distribution, drama and operetta performance to deliver the messages effectively to children.

These 10 facts about sanitation in Indonesia highlight some of the commendable progress that the government and different NGOs have made in the WASH sector and also describe some challenges that need to be addressed urgently. Ensuring universal access to clean water and improved sanitation should be one of the priorities for Indonesia, as it is a basic human right and vital for the socio-economic development of the nation.

– Minh-Ha La
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

Myna Mahila Foundation
The Myna Mahila Foundation is an NGO that was founded by Suhani Jalota in 2015 during her studies at Duke University. The organization’s goal is to create a social enterprise that can improve women’s access to menstrual healthcare.

In India, 23 million girls drop out of school early because they begin menstruating. The Myna Mahila Foundation aims to address this problem of girls missing school and limiting their potential because of their periods. The foundation has recently gained global attention due to high involvement with Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. The following are 10 facts about the Myna Mahila foundation that everyone should know.

10 Facts About the Myna Mahila Foundation

  1. The three goals of the foundation are improving menstrual hygiene affordability, generating female employment in slums and building women’s networks. The foundation manufactures low-cost high-quality sanitary napkins and sells them door to door, thus employing women in the Mumbai slums and providing affordable sanitary products to those in need.
  2. The foundation not only aims to have a direct impact by providing employment and affordable hygiene products, but it also wants to start a conversation about this issue and how it affects women in India and around the world.
  3. In 2018, founder Suhani Jalota was honored by Forbes 30 under 30 Asia. She was also previously honored with the Queen Young Leaders Award, the Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurship Fellowship and a Glamour Magazine Award.
  4. Meghan Markle wrote about the Myna Mahila Foundation for TIME in 2017. Additionally, Suhani Jalota attended the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May along with three other members of the foundation, Archana Ambre, Deborah Das and Imogen Mansfield.
  5. Less than a year after its creation, the foundation had already reached 1,500 women across five slums in Mumbai both through employment and hygienic products.
  6. There are over 3,000 regular users of Myna pads in India.
  7. Over 500,000 pads have been manufactured since the foundation was created.
  8. In addition to the menstrual hygiene initiative, the Myna Mahila Foundation also provides opportunities for women to work from home so they can take care of their children. The organization also collects donations such as books, toys and clothes and makes these available to people from the slums.
  9. The foundation empowers its staff by providing education in English, Math, health, computers and self-defense.
  10. The Myna Mahila Foundation was chosen by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, as one of the charities where guests were to send contributions in place of wedding gifts. This has brought a large amount of attention to the foundation and its efforts.

These important facts about the Myna Mahila Foundation reveal the organization’s enormous impact on Indian women and on the issue of menstrual hygiene. The organization is expanding beyond its original goal, changing lives with education and work opportunities and improving the way women feel about their bodies.  

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

menstruation in India
Menstruation in India is not without its barriers. In India, there are more than 355 million menstruating women and girls. Many of these women do not have access to proper sanitation, and negative attitudes and social norms create barriers to women’s agency and independence.

Poor Knowledge of Menstrual Hygiene Isolates Indian Women

An estimated 88 percent of girls in India who are living in poverty do not have access to disposable sanitary napkins and have to rely on homemade methods. In addition, FSG, a mission-driven consulting firm, identified in a study that 71 percent of girls in India have no knowledge about menstruation before their first period, and 70 percent of women say their families cannot afford hygiene products such as sanitary pads. The study identified that large restrictions on agency and mobility are created when women reach the age of menstruation.

Traditional gender roles and social norms are perpetuated by influential people in girls’ lives, such as their fathers, and often have negative associations. The lack of menstrual hygiene education, social norms and the cost of sanitary products create barriers large enough that women are often isolated, often being kept away from religious spaces and out of school during menstruation.

Khairahi Village Head Seeks to Break Down Barries Raised by Menstruation

One man in Khairahi Village, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is seeking to help eliminate these barriers. Hari Prasad, the village head in Khiarahi Village, noticed significant absences of girls from schools in his village and sought to find out why. In Uttar Pradesh specifically, government data shows that 60 percent of girls miss school on account of menstruation.

“The girls felt embarrassed for something which is the very basis of life,” said Prasad.

Seeing this as an opportunity to help, Prasad took it upon himself to try to lessen and mitigate the barriers raised by menstruation and encourage the girls to return to school to get an education.

He began by tackling social norms. Prasad spoke to the families, in particular to the fathers of the girls in the village, about menstruation in India. He explained to them that menstruation is not something to be stigmatized. Rather, it is a normal, natural process that all women experience, and that the girls should receive support in accessing proper menstrual hygiene.

Project Garima Works to End Stigma Surrounding Menstruation in India

Prasad went even further and partnered with UNICEF’s Project Garima. This program fights against the stigma associated with menstruation in the regions of Uttar Pradesh, Mirzapur, Janupur and Sonebhadra.

Through this partnership, Prasad was able to obtain disposable sanitary napkins and other sanitary supplies for the girls in his village. Through his work, 30 girls who had given up on going to school have now returned to continue their education.

Hari Prasad is taking what is a national problem and tackling it at a local level, with significant and positive results. One man is encouraging girls to get an education and is working to make their lives easier.

– Katherine Kirker
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Hygiene ManagementPoor menstrual hygiene management can be fatal. In Nepal, the “chaupadi” tradition of Hindus in western Nepal lead to a teenager named Tulasi Shahi being forced to stay in her uncle’s cowshed for days.

Why? Because she was on her period. A snake bit her while she was in the shed, and she died hours later.

Roshani Tiruwa, a 15-year-old girl, died a few months earlier from the “chaupadi” practice when she lit a fire in her hut and suffered from smoke inhalation. 50 percent of women in western Nepal suffer from this tradition.

Period-related shaming is not limited to Nepal. One out of three girls in southeast Asia had no knowledge of menstruation before getting their first period. 48 percent of girls in Iran and 10 percent of girls in India believe that getting your period is some kind of disease.

On top of harmful cultural influences, access to affordable hygienic materials is often very limited. Sometimes women attempt to use mud, leaves, dung or animal skins to control the bleeding.

For these women, periods are more than just embarrassing; they are an economic obstacle. The lack of information and products available to manage menstruation cause girls to miss significant amounts of school, and women to miss out on economic opportunities.

On the bright side, the solution to this problem already exists: pads, tampons, and knowledge that periods are natural and necessary for the survival of the human population. Days for Girls is an organization working to improve the lives of women in Uganda, Ghana and Nepal by improving their experience with menstruation.

The organization provides health education and affordable hygiene kits, which last up to three years. In addition, days for girls provides microbusiness and sewing training to empower women to improve their economic situation as well as their period.

Christine, a woman in Nairobi, attended a two-week Days for Girls training program, which taught her how to sew, spread health information and make and sell menstrual hygiene kits in her community. Christine now owns three hygiene kit enterprises and believes the program changed her life.

The world is beginning to understand that menstrual hygiene management is an important international problem. More organizations have been formed to tackle the issue, and major development groups are beginning to recognize the gravity of this problem.

Many women in the world are shamed and hindered from achievement because of a normal, crucial body function. The movement to promote menstrual hygiene management is an important step towards gender equality worldwide.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr