People in Papua New Guinea (PNG) still see the words menstruation or period as taboo. Yet, people are fighting to get the word out that a period is not something to be ashamed of and that addressing period poverty in Papua New Guinea should be a priority.
The Situation in Papua New Guinea
According to 2017 research from the Burnet Institute, an Australian medical research organization, many adolescents girls in PNG are not prepared to have their period and do not have the necessary knowledge about menstruation. As a result, findings have determined that the majority of them feel ashamed about it.
Menstruation is an important time for every adolescent girl. Educating about it helps them deal with the anxiety and anticipation that comes after, especially as understanding menstruation is important in identifying any abnormalities regarding health.
According to a Nationwide Children’s hospital blog article, “Young women should also be educated on what types of menstrual products exist and how to use menstrual products appropriately.” However, many adolescents and women in PNG do not have access to menstrual products or even proper sanitation facilities leading to period poverty and gender inequality.
Taboos About Periods in PNG
Period poverty in Papua New Guinea has been happening for many years now. From a young age, people in PNG have been teaching women, who comprise around 48% of the population, that period blood is “dirty” and “unhealthy.” In rural communities in PNG, the taboo of periods goes as far as women being separated from men and their families during menstruation because their community believes that it will bring bad luck to men and boys. In addition, women cannot even cook or go near food during menstruation because others perceive them as “unclean.”
Additionally, education about menstruation often depends on how comfortable teachers are about the subject. In many cases, girls often feel humiliated by the way teachers treat and teach the subject of menstruation, often reinforcing cultural beliefs.
Lack of Sanitation Facilities
Furthermore, the lack of sanitary places and access to menstrual products, especially in rural areas, only contributes to unsafe practices of cleaning and impacts the lives of many girls and women. Indeed, the majority of them stop going to school or work during their periods because of the fear of experiencing ridicule from their male peers.
Women and girls who live in rural areas also frequently have access to poor quality menstrual products if they can afford them at all. They often use pieces of cloth or second-hand products that can lead to “rashes, discomfort and leakage, which can cause pain and further perpetuate the cycle of shame.”
Implementation of WASH Facilities
The report from the Burnet Institute highlights some of the solutions to overcome and facilitate the management of menstruation to end period poverty and gender inequality in PNG.
One particular solution is the increment of WASH facilities in schools and workplaces. Often, they are not adequate for girls and women to use while on their periods. Some of the problems include a lack of privacy while using toilets and showers, and a deficiency of well-functioning toilets and soap and water for handwashing and personal hygiene.
The good news is that there are many organizations working toward the proper implementation of menstrual hygiene management in PNG. Papua New Guinea’s government, UNICEF and other partner organizations (World Vision, Oxfam and Infra Tech) have been working together since 2016 to carry out a five-year plan to improve water and sanitation in the four districts of PNG including Nawaeb in Morobe, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, Hagen Central in Western Highlands and Central Bougainville District in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. The program will significantly improve the quality of life of more than 70,000 people and expectations have determined that it will reach completion by 2021.
Moon Sick Care Bags
Furthermore, since 2017, women in PNG have been receiving Moon Sick Care Bags from women in Queens Island. The bag includes personal underwear, soap, menstrual products, information about the menstrual cycle and even a small bag where they can put their soiled pads. Yolonde Entsch, coordinator and partner of the program, said that “Our Moon Sick Care Bags provide everything a woman or girl needs to manage menstruation with dignity and confidence.”
With time and work, women and girls in PNG will receive the necessary facilities to properly manage their menstruation with dignity, and hopefully, period poverty in Papua New Guinea will no longer prevent women and girls from living their lives.
– Alannys Milano