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Period Products Bill in ScotlandOn November 24, 2020, a groundbreaking moment occurred that changed the struggle against period poverty. The Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products Bill in Scotland. This new bill guarantees free access to necessary hygienic period products to all who require them. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Monica Lennon, championed the fight against period poverty in Scotland and played a significant part in passing this revolutionary legislation.

Ending Period Poverty in Scotland

Even with the United Kingdom being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, period poverty remains a recurrent problem. In 2018, more than 20% of those polled in Scotland stated that they either had limited or no access to period products. Another 10% had to sacrifice food and other necessities to afford them. One in 10 experienced bacterial or fungal infections due to a lack of sanitary products. These rates have gone up to nearly one in four during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Period Products Bill in Scotland practically eliminates these problems. Accessibility to sanitary products must be made by the Scottish Government and organized countrywide. Public restrooms in educational institutions must contain a variety of period products without charge and it also allows oversight over local jurisdictions to ensure enforcement of the law.

Ending Menstruation Taboos

Menstruation has become a stigmatized topic worldwide, despite half the population experiencing it. The dangerous and outdated idea that periods are not appropriate for discussion and seriousness is damaging to those subjected to these taboos.

From South America to Africa, antiquated menstruation views have led to long-lasting negative consequences for those suffering from period poverty. In some cultures, menstruating girls and women must separate themselves from the rest of their community. In Nepal, so-called ‘menstruation huts‘ have dire consequences for women, with local organizations stating that many deaths associated with the practice go unreported.

The importance of ending taboos about menstruation is evident. The Period Products Bill in Scotland is a meaningful step to engage the rest of the world over these unsound presuppositions of menstruation and begin addressing period poverty globally.

Implementing Period Poverty Legislation Worldwide

There has already been worldwide attention brought to the neoteric Period Products Bill in Scotland. Lennon has been fielding communications from leaders and lawmakers around the world, ready to implement similar laws in their own countries. According to Lennon, “Scotland has provided a blueprint and shown how it can be done.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, logistical problems of supplying period products and economic suffering are causing governments to reevaluate the impact of period poverty. Countries with strong infrastructure can utilize Scotland’s approach to combat the worsening situation fast and effectively. The rest of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have already taken note of the problem and Scotland’s practical policy.

Ending Global Period Poverty

In underdeveloped countries, Scotland’s lead in the battle against period poverty can pave the way for education and destigmatizing menstruation. Poverty-fighting organizations can create similar international implementation plans in developing nations with little investment. Thanks to Scotland’s leadership, period poverty may soon become as antiquated as the stigmas surrounding it.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in ChinaThe monthly cost of purchasing menstrual sanitary products is not a small amount for females worldwide. “Period Poverty” refers to the inability to afford access to pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. A campaign in China, is working on addressing period poverty for its girls and women. However, it still remains a women’s rights issue globally.

The General Problem

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) reports that around 10% of young women around the world are now unable to afford period protection. FIGO also found that 12% of women have to improvise with devices that are potentially ineffective and unsafe. According to UNICEF, there are more than 500 million females that lack a proper place to change their sanitary protection during their period. Period poverty causes long-term impacts of health and hygiene for girls and women. Time management, the chance of receiving education and employment are also affected by period poverty. All of these factors influence a woman’s lifelong development and wellbeing.

Period Poverty in China

The situation of period poverty in China is not much different. Many women and young girls, especially in rural areas, cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Instead of sanitary pads, impoverished women have to use toilet paper or old cloth. Any available yet unsafe materials on hand — even bark for some women in extreme poverty — are substituted to get through the period. Unfortunately, the lack of basic menstrual knowledge and the common menstruation taboo in China only worsen the situation. It is difficult and embarrassing to practice optimal hygiene with dignity in China. As a result, many girls in rural China skip classes or even leave school once they start menstruating.

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

In recent years, the Chinese public is growing more aware of period poverty in China. They are calling for more affordable sanitary products. Additionally, the public advocates for more humanitarian public health policies that take women’s biological needs into accounts. As of 2020, the Chinese government regulates a 13% sales tax on feminine sanitary products. That is 4% higher than the 9% tax for essential daily necessities such as grain, water and contraceptives.

Many other countries, including India and Malaysia, have either exempted or reduced the tax on sanitary products. They have done so for the sake of gender equality. In response, a couple of online campaigns emerged in China in the past few years. The campaigns appeal for a lower tampon tax in the country.

The “Stand by Her” Project

Before the national public health policy can ameliorate, some philanthropists and social organizations have jumped to the cause. They have stood up first to help the low-income women in underdeveloped regions. So far, the “Stand by Her” is one of the most well-known and large-scale projects that deal with period poverty in China.

Liang Yu Stacey, a 24-year-old Chinese feminist activist, initiated the “Reassurance for Sisters Fighting the Virus” online campaign in early 2020. She aimed to raise money to provide feminine sanitary products for the health care workers fighting against COVID-19. The project then extended to a broader scale and evolved into “Stand by Her.”

“Stand by Her” is a voluntary foundation that coordinates donation, procurement and distribution of hygiene products to under-age girls in impoverished provinces. The foundation regularly sends sanitary pads to women around China. In addition, the project also hands out brochures and holds lectures in middle schools to popularize menstruation and sex education. In the first phase of 2020-2021, the team continues to plan to help more than 6,000 girls from 33 schools across China. Within 3 days of opening the donation portals, “Stand by Her” raised 368,700 RMB (54,500 USD).

The online conversations, campaigns and donations display some positive signals in the area of menstruation. Feminine hygiene is gradually breaking away from the conventional social taboo. Reducing tax on women’s menstrual products would be a win for women’s rights in China.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Period Poverty in TanzaniaPeriod poverty, or the inability to access sanitary products for menstruation, remains a problem in many impoverished areas of the world, with millions of women and girls denied access to products and forced to stop attended school during their menstrual cycles. This problem persists in Tanzania, where only 8% of girls finish secondary school and the average menstruating student misses three to four classes during each cycle. Menstruation is a taboo subject in many developing countries, teaching young girls that their cycles are unhealthy, dirty or something to hide and be ashamed of. However, several organizations are fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all girls receive the sanitary products and education they need to continue school and defeat the stigma around menstruation. UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are just a handful of the groups working to make sure that period poverty in Tanzania becomes a thing of the past.

UNFPA Tanzania is Educating Both Girls and Boys on Menstruation

The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) branch in Tanzania has noted the lack of education surrounding menstruation for both men and women. In various places throughout the nation, the organization has noted girls being taught that menstruation is shameful and should be hidden (even from other women) or that they are taught nothing about it at all. That is why UNFPA Tanzania has enacted various programs in the country’s Kigoma region to normalize education around menstruation for both sexes. These initiatives include Ujana Wangu Nguvu Yangu (My Youth, My Power), a four-year series of classes that teach Tanzanian adolescents about sexual and reproductive health, including menstruation.

In addition to initiating these programs, UNFPA has taken further steps to ensure that period poverty in Tanzania does not worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has kept its Adolescent and Youth Centers open with proper social distancing protocols in place so that women and girls in Tanzania still have access to the sanitary products and support they need during their menstrual cycles.

WomensChoice Industries

Lucy Odiwa, a Kenyan woman, grew up surrounded by harmful stigma about menstruation. This experience inspired her to establish WomensChoice Industries, which creates reusable sanitary products in order to decrease period poverty in Tanzania and ensure that girls in the region do not grow up in the same way she did.

Many women in rural Tanzania cannot afford sanitary products so Odiwa began selling her Salama pads, which can be reused for up to three years, for Sh5,000 ($2). In addition to the pads, WomensChoice Industries also manufactures tampons, breast pads and diapers for children and adults, all at a low cost so that they are more accessible to Tanzania’s low-income communities.

And the work does not stop there. Like UNFPA, WomensChoice Industries provides reproductive education to Tanzanian boys and girls. Representatives from the organization travel across the region to reduce the stigma around menstruation and ensure that adolescent girls are aware of their own sexual and reproductive health. The group has reached over 1.8 million women with its menstrual health programs as well as 1.2 million with its affordable and reusable sanitary products.

Made With Hope

Made With Hope is an organization based in the United Kingdom that focuses on increasing access to education for children in Tanzania, whether that be building schools or working to improve those already implemented by the government. As girls frequently miss class due to their menstrual cycles, the organization has made it a priority to combat period poverty. In addition to increasing education surrounding menstruation, Made With Hope has created a clean space in the schools it has built for girls to change their sanitary products safely. It has also helped to create local income-generating programs that manufacture these products. The organization has also worked to spread awareness of period poverty in Tanzania around the United Kingdom, inspiring others to get involved with the issue, even from abroad.

While period poverty in Tanzania remains an issue, UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are all fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all Tanzanian women and girls receive the sanitary products and menstrual health education they need.

– Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Period PovertyPeriod poverty, a significant issue around the world, is an umbrella term that describes inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products, washing facilities, waste management and education. This lack of access impacts women and girls in Namibia, sometimes hindering their health and education. However, Eco-Sanitary Training, a local business, is stepping in to help.

Worldwide Period Poverty

Globally, there are 2.3 billion people that live without basic sanitation. 73% live in homes without sufficient hand-washing facilities. This exacerbates period poverty, as it makes it almost impossible for women and girls to manage their periods.

In many places around the world, menstruation products are very hard to access due to high prices. Although these products are a necessity, many countries still tax them. In Hungary, the tax rate on feminine hygiene products in 2020 is 27%, followed by Sweden and Mexico with 25% and 16% respectively. Some of the countries where female sanitary items are tax-free include Ireland, Malaysia, Tanzania and Lebanon.

An example of how feminine hygiene products affect women can be seen through the story of Suzana Frederick, a 19-year-old single mother who lives at Arusha, Tanzania. Frederick makes around 30,000 shillings ($13) monthly and spends between 1,500 and 3,000 shillings ($0.70 to $1.30) on sanitary products. The amount she spends on the products is  5% to 10% of her salary. This would be equivalent to an American woman with an average wage spending around $169 and $338 for sanitary products.

Period Poverty in Namibia

Period poverty has many consequences for women and girls in Namibia. According to Action Aid, “One in 10 girls in Africa miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products, or because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school.” Many women and girls are also forced to use mattresses, clothes and newspapers every month because they cannot afford sanitary products.

A story from a girl who lives in Namibia reveals that she chose to get a contraceptive injection because her mother couldn’t afford pads. Contraceptive injections – a birth control method of releasing hormones like progesterone to stop the release of an egg – are free in all governmental hospitals in Namibia. Unfortunately, the injections have side effects, including significant bone mineral density loss, and are not intended for regulating menstruation. Another girl, also from Namibia, mentioned that dating older men is the only option that some girls have to get the money needed to afford pads.

How a Local Business Has Helped

Eco-Sanitary Trading is a local business in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Around March 4, 2019, the business joined the local market to make affordable pads that are high in quality and can also be reused or discarded. The managing director of the business, Naomi Kefas, mentioned that she got the idea from the realization of the fact that many girls are missing school frequently due to their periods.

For two years, Kefas and her team did extensive research and traveled to places including South Africa, Kenya, India and China to invent a new sanitary pad. They then came up with a product called “Perfect Fit,” a locally produced sanitary pad with good quality and affordability. “Perfect Fit” is benefiting women and girls in Namibia.

Moving Forward

The work that Eco-Sanitary Trading is essential to reducing period poverty in Namibia. However, it is essential that the government and other humanitarian organizations also step in. Moving forward, other barriers to menstrual hygiene products and facilities must be reduced, including high tax rates.

Alison Choi
Photo: Unsplash

Menstrual Hygiene in South Asia
Globally, access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is on the rise, especially in South Asia. According to UNICEF, in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, the percentage of people practicing open defecation—a leading cause of child malnutrition, disease and death—fell from 65 percent to 34 percent. While these WASH initiatives have seen success, they often neglect one important aspect of hygiene that pertains to women, menstruation. The ability for women to menstruate hygienically and with dignity is vital to their empowerment. Here are five facts about menstrual hygiene in South Asia.

5 Facts About Menstrual Hygiene in South Asia

  1. There is a culture of silence around menstruation; discussing it is often treated as taboo. Females on their periods are often excluded from society because they are seen as impure. One study in Nepal found that 89 percent of respondents practiced some form of exclusion or restriction during a menstrual cycle. However, organizations such as WaterAid are working to break the silence through female-led self-help groups. When just a few women came forward to speak, it inspired others to share their experiences and start breaking the taboo.
  2. Many girls do not understand their periods. Because the topic is taboo, it is often ignored in schools. As such, 10 percent of girls in India thought menstruation was a disease, and 66 percent of girls in South Asia do not know anything about periods before their first menstruation. A study of 160 girls in West Bengal found that, though 67.5 percent knew what a period was before their first, 97.5 percent did not know where menstrual bleeding comes from. While schools often neglect to teach about reproductive health, this is beginning to change. UK Aid is creating audiobooks for girls dispelling myths and teaching them about their periods, and non-government organizations are creating extracurricular activities that teach about menstrual hygiene in South Asia.
  3. Menstrual hygiene in South Asia is vital for keeping girls in schools. According to WaterAid, a study done in South India found half the girls in school were pulled out at the time of their first period, often to be married. The girls who stayed in school beyond their first period reported poor performance due to anxiety that the boys in the class would find out they were menstruating.
  4. Access to feminine hygiene products is expensive. According to WaterAid, in a West Bengal study, only 11.25 percent of girls used disposable feminine hygiene products. The most common obstacles to obtaining them are a lack of awareness about them, the high cost, the lack of availability and the need for disposal facilities. Focus group discussions indicated that girls would prefer sanitary pads because they were more comfortable, discreet, and easier to use and carry. WaterAid is working to make low cost disposable sanitary pads as well as facilities to dispose of them. In the meantime, most women and girls rely on reusable cloth, which comes with its own problems.
  5. Maintaining menstrual hygiene in South Asia requires improved sanitation. One of the biggest obstacles to menstrual health is a lack of sanitation practices and infrastructure. Most South Asian women and girls rely on reusable cloth. To sanitize them though, they need to wash them in clean water and dry them in sunlight. However, cultural taboos around menstruation often pressure women and girls to try to dry them in dark places, potentially leading to infection. For those who might have access to disposable sanitary pads, they often lack the facilities to get rid of them. This is especially a problem for girls in schools. However, WaterAid and its partners are working on implementing WASH facilities that are lockable and gender-separated, with at least one toilet or washroom with an opening leading to an incinerator or dustbin for feminine hygiene products.

While countries in the region are making great strides in sanitation, there is still much to be done to improve menstrual hygiene in South Asia. It is vital they do so because the ability for women and girls to menstruate with privacy and dignity empowers them to pursue work, education and gives them the opportunity to have a voice in society.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Top Ten Facts about Period Poverty in the U.K.
Nearly 800 million women and girls menstruate daily. Period poverty encompasses the shame, guilt and cost barriers around access to sanitary products. One in 10 girls in the United Kingdom is unable to afford sanitary wear, resulting in detriment to their self-esteem, education and overall quality of life. Eliminating period poverty has often been the focus of nonprofits and the U.K.’s government. Below are the top 10 facts about period poverty in the U.K. that are important to know.

Top 10 Facts About Period Poverty in the U.K.

  1. An estimated 49 percent of girls have missed a day of school due to their periods. One in five girls surveyed in a 2019 study reported being a victim of bullying and teasing because of their periods. Girls faced increased feelings of shame and embarrassment when on their periods or discussing their period in an academic setting. This resulted in absences from school and led female students to struggle to keep up with their schoolwork.
  2. Women in the U.K. spend as much as 18,450 euros ($20.744 USD) due to their period across their lifetime. The total accounts for the costs of sanitary items, pain relief for cramps, new underwear and other period-related costs such as sweets or magazines. Of those interviewed, 91 percent purchase pain relief to ease the symptoms of periods on a regular basis. All of the 2,134 women surveyed responded that feminine hygiene products should cost less money, and some added that the government should remove its tax on those products.
  3. Free Periods is a campaign supplying low-income girls with menstrual products. Amika George, a 19-year-old student studying at Cambridge University, founded Free Periods. George called on the U.K. government to assure sanitary products are widely available in educational settings. The campaign also held a protest in London to bring attention to the ongoing issue.
  4. Plan International UK found that 10 percent of girls are unable to afford sanitary products. The cost of sanitary products has led 14 percent of girls to borrow sanitary products from friends, 12 percent to improvise sanitary products and 19 percent to change to less suitable products.
  5. Bloody Good Period, created by Gabby Edlin in 2018, supplies 25 asylum seeker centers in the U.K. with a flow of menstrual products. The growing initiative aspires to supply more food banks and centers in its mission to end period poverty.
  6. Girls throughout the U.K. not only miss school but often improvise sanitary products to use during their period. Girls have shared their stories of wrapping a sock around their underwear to control the bleeding. Others have wrapped rolls of tissues or newspapers in order to prevent leakage through their uniforms.
  7. In 2018, the Scottish government rolled out a plan to provide free sanitary products to women unable to afford them. Projections determine that it will reach approximately 18,800 low-income women and girls in an attempt to combat period poverty.
  8. The Gift Wellness Foundation provides non-toxic sanitary pads to women in crisis throughout the U.K. The Foundation relies on donations and the generosity of local community businesses. Donated sanitary products contain all-natural ingredients to ensure they are free of harmful chemicals.
  9. As of 2017, an estimated 68,000 women lived on the streets in temporary housing or shelters. These women have to make decisions that often leave them without sanitary products due to their financial situation. Each year, shelters get an allowance for condoms but not for sanitary products.
  10. Three individuals who met as interns at a London advertising agency founded #TheHomelessPeriod. Inspired to minimize the hidden side of an inequality, #TheHomelessPeriod aims to have tampons and towels available in homeless shelters through donations, crowdfunding and fundraising.

The top 10 facts about period poverty in the U.K. show the frequent inaccessibility of sanitary products to girls and women throughout the nation. While the Scottish government leads the way in the efforts to end period poverty, other governments have yet to replicate its actions. Individuals within the U.K. have taken it upon themselves to create campaigns to combat the hidden inequality and have seen success in their efforts.

– Gwen Schemm
Photo: Unsplash

Sanitation Leads to Education for Girls in GhanaEvery year, millions of girls all around the world experience their first period. To many, it is a moment of pride as they enter womanhood. For many others, the experience is significantly disruptive. This is especially true for school girls in Ghana, where the start of their period is simultaneously the start of missing 30 to 50 school days each calendar year. Inevitably, these young girls are falling behind in their education quickly. Education for girls in Ghana loses much to this.

One of the greatest obstacles for young girls in Ghana is acquiring sanitary supplies. For those who cannot afford the supplies, choices are limited. Many are left to fend for themselves by using scraps of clothing, fabric or even mud. Due to the risk of being exploited by their needs, many girls choose to stay home and simply avoid the embarrassment. According to a study in 2012 by WaterAid, upwards of 95 percent of the girls surveyed choose against attending during their period each month.

Fortunately, some non-profit organizations have begun tackling this issue of lacking proper sanitary supplies for the young girls in Ghana. The Educational Empowerment Initiative (EEI) has since been distributing free disposable sanitary supplies to school-aged girls within the school systems. As a result, schools have reported a drastic reduction in the number of period-related absences. All it took was distributing feminine hygiene supplies to show the fact that sanitation leads to improved education for girls in Ghana.

Moreover, the program has also sought to provide basic healthcare and reproductive educational classes to the girls as well as train teachers to talk to their students when they may have questions about their seemingly new bodies. Education concerning periods is just as crucial as general studies for girls in places like Ghana. A UNICEF study in 2013 revealed that nearly 48 percent of young girls were completely unaware of menstruation until they had their first experience.

UNICEF and Ghana Education Services (GES) are also pushing for research and improvements through Ghana. These two organizations have partnered together in order to conduct project research on the myths that haunt Ghana’s people regarding menstruation. For example, many believe menstrual blood to be a bad omen and that women are impure during their menstrual cycles. UNICEF and GES are seeking to use their finding to improve ongoing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs in schools. Specifically, UNICEF is focusing on advocating for better Menstrual Hygiene Management throughout the country, hoping it will improve girls’ attendance and retention.

Another real concern for all students in Ghana—not just the girls—is the overall lack of access to sanitation facilities. For some schools, like the Adusa Municipal Assembly Primary School, a couple of pit latrines and one makeshift, semi-open structure is all the students have to use to relieve themselves. Due to the extremely poor conditions of the facilities, many of the students report that they “hold it,” but admit to being unable to concentrate during class. The Ghana WASH project has specifically mentioned that institutional latrine improvements will address some of the girls’ absences, too. A simple extension of privacy and a brief excuse from class allows young girls to take care of themselves without missing a whole day of school.

The entrepreneurial young woman behind EEI, then-15-year old Winnifred Selby is a part of a global movement recognizing how important it is to aid young girls and women in fulfilling their basic needs. By helping the girls and women remain in and prioritize school, the chances they eventually enter and contribute to the workforce grow. Education is a powerful tool that enables people around the world to develop and participate in their local, national and international workforces and communities. Investing in educating women is an investment in improving society. Therefore, what is happening in Ghana is not isolated to Ghana. Improving sanitation is a greater concern for the world at large. As shown by some of the actions of EEI, UNICEF and the WASH projects, improved sanitation often leads to improved education.

Taylor Elkins

Photo: Flickr

Education in UgandaEducation, especially for girls, is one of the best ways to increase a developing country’s welfare. A nation’s GDP can rise by three percent when the number of girls in school increases by 10 percent. On an individual level, every year a girl stays in school, her potential income increases by about 15 to 25 percent. These numbers show that education in Uganda is, just like everywhere else, an ever-important issue.

In Uganda, girls have a low track record of completing their education. Studies show that only 22 percent of Ugandan girls are enrolled in secondary school, contrasting the 91 percent enrolled in in primary school.

Analysts have often pointed out that early marriages and social stigmas keep girls from receiving a complete education in Uganda. But there’s a simpler, more intimate reason behind those causes: menstruation.

This topic remains uncomfortable and awkward in developed countries, but Ugandan girls face this problem on an entirely different level. Many developed countries, including Uganda, have myths and stigmas surrounding periods that shame girls when they menstruate. As a result, most girls have no understanding of what is happening to their bodies or how to take care of themselves.

Adding to this difficulty is the lack of availability of feminine hygiene products. Drugstores that carry disposable pads, tampons and other products can be more than 40 minutes away. Even then, these products are usually imported and are too expensive for most Ugandan women to afford.

Desperate to stop the monthly flow, Ugandan women often resort to using pieces of cloth, shreds of foam mattresses, toilet paper, newspapers, banana plant fibers and even leaves. Not only are these options ineffective and uncomfortable, but are also extremely unhygienic, putting girls at risk for diseases.

About half of Ugandan girls skip three days of school every month because they do not have any feminine hygiene products and do not want to stain their clothes. As the absences stack up, many girls find it too hard to continue their education and eventually drop out. Social stigmas also place pressure on girls to marry once they get their periods and not remain in school.

However, despite the struggle, many girls want to stay in school and complete their education in Uganda, and they’re getting help from several international organizations to do so. Wateraid, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to provide clean water and sanitation efforts to developing countries around the world, started hygiene clubs in Ugandan schools. At these clubs, girls learn about menstruation and how to make their own pads and products.

One of these clubs, located at St. Mary’s School in northeastern Uganda, has taken things a step further. This hygiene club travels to other skills singing, dancing, and even rapping about their periods. This group of girls wants to raise awareness about the stigmas surrounding menstruation and promote education in Uganda.

Despite the work of Wateraid and other groups, many girls in Uganda are still skipping school because they don’t have feminine hygiene products. Wateraid ambitiously plans to supply the necessary sanitation products, from tampons to toilets, for every child and every school in every part of the world by 2030.

On an entrepreneurial level, start-up AFRIpads donates reusable pads to women in Uganda and other areas where women do not have easy access to menstrual products. These organizations hope that soon every girl in Uganda will be able to attend school every day of the school year, whether she has her period or not—and no one will shame her if she does.

Sydney Cooney

Photo: Google

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Learn about the Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.

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educating_girls
Menstruation in low-income countries isn’t an issue often talked about, but one group is doing what it can to help teach girls about their changing bodies.

Grow and Know is an organization working toward educating girls who don’t have access to learning materials about menstruation. The company launched after successfully distributing a book on girl’s puberty in Tanzania.

The book, which was approved for use in primary schools by the Tanzania Ministry of Education, garnered positive responses from girls, mothers, fathers and teachers. There have been over 470,000 copies distributed throughout the country to date.

According to Grow and Know’s website, the organization “aims to develop books that are grounded into the local social, cultural, and economic context, and that capture the real perspectives of young people growing up today.”

It’s important to talk about menstruation in low-income countries, as many girls living in Africa, Asia and Latin America don’t have access to sufficient information, guidance and support about their changing bodies.

As a result, many don’t ask for assistance when first experiencing menstrual periods, as they feel too afraid, embarrassed or ashamed.

Without proper hygiene management, such as adequate information, safe and private places to change a menstrual cloth or pad, and water at school, girls may end up missing class, or stop going to school completely.

Educating girls, however, is shown to improve the overall health of not only their peers, but their communities as well.

When girls are more educated, they can live a healthier lifestyle, participate more in the labor market, make more money, have fewer children, and give their children access to better health care and education. Doing so improves the wellbeing of individuals in households and can spread throughout generations and communities.

After seeing success in Tanzania, Grow and Know worked to adapt the girl’s puberty book to Ghana, Ethiopia and Cambodia. All three countries’ Ministries of Education approved the book, and almost 300,000 copies have been distributed to date.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Grow and Know, Medical Xpress, The World Bank
Photo: Grow and Know

Menstrual-Hygiene

Old taboos surrounding menstruation die hard in Nepal where, until 2005, Chhaupadi, the practice of ostracizing women and girls from their own homes during their periods, did not face a national ban.

The Nepalese Supreme Court declared Chhaupadi illegal in 2005. However, the practice still retains a foothold in the country’s western region and myths surrounding women’s natural cycles remain a national problem.

Chhaupadi, which is based upon the belief that menstruating women are toxic, prohibits menstruating women and girls from inhabiting any public space, socializing with others and using water sources that other people share.

According to the tradition, women and girls on their periods are also banned from sharing food or touching anyone. Rather than eating with their families, these “untouchables” must remain outside the house and keep their distance while a family member throws boiled rice to them, like they would to a dog.

The effects of Chhaupadi are extremely dehumanizing and psychologically stressful, with young girls told that they will bring bad luck on their families if they enter their own homes during menstruation. In communities where the tradition is still practiced, even women and girls who do not believe they are truly toxic fear disobeying the rules of Chhaupadi and incurring the anger of family or village elders.

In addition to being emotionally degrading, Chhaupadi also places women and girls at risk for rape, abduction, snakebites and animal attacks, as well as malnourishment. Forced to sleep in rickety huts without adequate insulation or ventilation, women and girls face illness exacerbated by the cold and unhygienic conditions or asphyxiation from improperly ventilated heat sources.

Even in regions where Chhaupadi is not practiced, taboos surrounding menstruation still affect Nepalese women and girls. The Nepali Times reports that today many households in Kathmandu still prohibit menstruating women from entering kitchens or temples, eating with the family and sleeping on their beds.

These practices condition women to view their bodies as unclean and to devalue themselves because they take the blame for any misfortune their families may experience. Chhaupadi’s legacy contributes to a wider disregard of women and girls that places them in danger.

A prime example comes in the wake of the recent earthquake that devastated Nepal. Although the refugees require many resources that aid organizations are working to meet, menstrual hygiene is far from the minds of most.

Female refugees have few sanitary resources. Some reuse the same menstrual products for days, washing them in unfiltered water sources in the same areas where refugees openly defecate.

“There are no proper toilet facilities or private spaces in the camps,” reported Dr. Hema Pradhan, consultant gynecologist and fistula surgeon at the Kathmandu Model Hospital. She called the sanitary practices in these camps “worrisome.”

Ursula Singh, a program officer for women’s rights NGO Loom Nepal, stated, “We went to the village of Kavre on the outskirts and saw some girls sitting huddled in tents, covered in blood.” Most girls, she elaborated, wait until dark to step outside and dispose of or attempt to sanitize menstrual products.

“We want them to at least practice hygienic disposal because they are in super exposed conditions and that puts them at a higher risk to contract diseases,” Singh said. However, the only hygienic means of disposing of sanitary napkins is often digging holes and burying them in the ground.

In a culture with superstitions such as the belief that any plant a menstruating woman touches will die, disposing of menstrual products and trying to manage period blood and symptoms in an area with as little shelter or privacy as a refugee camp must be a traumatic experience. Lingering stigmas place women under intense scrutiny and many would rather risk disease, injury or abuse than suffer negative social responses to their behavior while menstruating.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: Time, Nepali Times, IRN News, Reuters, New York Times
Photo: Time