Women face challenges everyday across the globe, from discrimination to sexual harassment. However, their biggest obstacle comes once a month from their own bodies. Women and girls in developing countries find it hard to feel confident and practice proper hygiene. When girls are menstruating, they choose to stay home to prevent embarrassment from leaking. The Huffington Post found that some girls would go days without food or water sitting on cardboard until their period was over.

Women and girls in poor countries do not have easy access to sanitary pads, therefore the impact menstruation has on them affects their everyday lives. Indra, from Nepal says “I asked the neighbors to borrow some cloth, and I had to use it for five days without any chance to wash it,” according to Water Aid. In developing countries clean water and private bathroom facilities are another challenge girls face. When girls do not feel comfortable attending school and women refrain working in fields, it sets them back from achieving their full potential.

An important aspect of feminine hygiene is education. “One study found that nearly 70 percent of girls had no idea what was happening to them the first time they menstruated,” according to the Gates Foundation. This means their mothers lacked in educating their daughters on their bodies. With proper sexual education STD’s can be prevented and early pregnancy can be avoided. Girls can also learn to keep track of their cycle and prepare for their period.

Although women and girls face challenges with their bodies, the organization Days for Girls International is fighting to improve the lives of women across the world. Days for Girls sells affordable sanitary kits with reusable pads, travel soaps, panties, and a Ziploc bag for soiled items. The social business Ruby Cup, has innovated a reusable silicon menstrual cup lasting up to 10 years and can be used up to 12 hours.

Every day girls get their period and the struggles girls face in poor countries are sometimes over looked. Businesses making this issue a primary focus will create better lives for girls who are losing a chance at education or income. By 2022, Days for Girls wishes to see every girl around the world access hygiene and education. If women and girls can continue to work in school and on the fields, the world can come closer to ending poverty with their constant efforts.

– Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: Huffington Post, Water Aid, Impatient Optimists, Days For Girls
Photo: Too Little Children

It’s no secret that menstruation is a globally taboo topic. Even “forward-thinking” Western countries continue to tiptoe around the subject, marketing discreet feminine hygiene products and attributing emotional reactions to “that time of the month.” While circumstances in the first world are far better than those in developing nations, these behaviors reinforce the same gender-based stereotypes and inequality that women in the third world face regularly.

In these places, women’s needs are often secondary to those of their family or husband. The Working Group on Girls (WGG) states that fewer than half of girls in developing nations attended secondary school in 2011. This low number can be attributed to a number of causes. In areas of conflict, it’s often safer for women to stay at home. Additionally, their help in the home is valued more than their education.

Poverty directly affects a girl’s ability to attend school or venture out in public in general. Food, school uniforms, transportation and other supplies are purchased before sanitary pads are considered. Even if a girl ordinarily attends school, without proper hygiene products, she is forced to stay home during her period.

Project Inspire conducted interviews with women in India, hoping to gain greater understanding of the stigma associated with menstruation. The interviews revealed that “limited economic resources and cultural taboos about menstruation have been the greatest barriers to getting access to sanitary napkins.” Many women have resorted to making makeshift pads out of old clothing and fabric, though UNICEF points out that this could be unhygienic and dangerous.

The Project Inspire interviews also exposed that access to sanitary napkins gave girls more than just health benefits. One teenager said that the ability to use sanitary napkins would give her more comfort and confidence to attend school and, furthermore, succeed. Parents and family members, however, still have trouble grasping the value of buying feminine hygiene products over other valuable things for the family.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) proposes many solutions to make women more comfortable with their bodies, despite the deeply rooted stigma regarding menstruation. First and foremost, says the WSSCC, “Fostering understanding that menstruation is a fact of life.” The biology of a woman’s body will not change because of prejudices. The WSSCC says that having women talk openly about their experiences would encourage a healthier, more positive environment.

On a more practical note, the WSSCC says that prioritizing safe spaces for women to clean themselves is paramount. Additionally, having clean hygiene materials would promote the confidence and health of women. Disposal of such materials should also be considered for the safety of the community and environment.

Often women are both embarrassed by menstruation and unable to afford hygiene products. Over the past few years, Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian man, has been developing the first machine to make low-cost sanitary pads for the women of rural India. His invention has also created jobs for women, and allows them to make their own sanitary napkins. This has not only provided women with a valuable necessity, but also empowers them to regain control over their bodies.

– Bridget Tobin 

Sources: Project Inspire, Working Group on Girls, WSSCC, BBC
Photo: Healthy People

menstruation in uganda
Menstruation is a major reason for young girls in Uganda to miss school. Reasons for their absence stems from the stigma associated with “that time of the month,” a lack of sanitary napkins and the limited facilities available to students. Attending school while on their period forces girls to put their health at risk and chance being the subject of humiliation.

In an interview with a Guardian reporter, 16-year-old Lydia from Kampala, Uganda expressed why going to school during her period is difficult. She explained that some of the toilets did not have doors, so that if someone walked in, they would see her. Her school also has only four toilets for 2,000 students.  The toilets’ inability to flush or have water complicates the issue further, making menstruation in Uganda a problem in multiple ways.

In a recent study by SNV, officials report that girls miss between 8 to 24 days of school per year while menstruating.

Some girls attempt to prevent their clothing from being ruined by trying to absorb the blood with old cloth or old t-shirts, but these methods are not particularly successful. In another interview, Auma Milly commented that disposable pads are very expensive and are often not available in the more rural regions. Consequently, she felt embarrassed when she went to school and would soil her clothes so often that she chose not to attend.

In an attempt to address the problem regarding women’s sanitary needs, organizations including Save the Children, WaterAid, the Institute of Reproductive Health and local NGO Caritas Lira have begun to raise awareness and assist the cause.  Representatives from WaterAid commented on the importance of deconstructing the taboo regarding women’s health. The founder of 50 Cents. Period. described the battle as giving girls the basic right to hygiene. SNV and Caritas Lira have gone to schools in order to teach girls how to make reusable, affordable pads. Additionally, female Ugandan government officials have begun advocating for reduced taxes on sanitary napkins and improved facilities so that menstruation does not interfere with education.

– Jordyn Horowitz


Sources: The Guardian, The Guardian 2, UWASNET, 50 Cents Period, UWASNET, , SNV
Photo: A Global Village