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Period Poverty in Bangladesh
The right to hygienic menstruation products may seem like something everyone might agree with. However, this is not the case for millions of women and girls globally. Today, there are about 500 million women and girls suffering from period poverty worldwide. Period poverty does not only pose a huge health risk, but it also affects girls’ whole livelihood.

In Bangladesh, period poverty is visible throughout communities, as many people see menstruation products as a privilege rather than a right. Moreover, approximately 95% of the female population cannot afford sanitary pads, leading to illnesses and increased absences from school or work. The cultural beliefs and social norms place an enormous burden on menstruating women, limiting their participation in the community and preventing real progress from occurring. Here is some information about menstruation and period poverty in Bangladesh.

Education

In Bengali culture, society believes that menstruation is an evil and shameful thing. For example, the women of the northern Bangladesh village, Char Bramagacha menstruate in secret. Women, fearing that evil spirits will attach to their blood, bury their old menstrual cloths in the ground and wash the new cloths before anyone in the village is awake. This behavior is not unique to just this village. The taboos around menstruation are ubiquitous throughout the country and culture. Shopna, a 14-year old Bengali girl, describes being taught that while menstruating, “Hindu girls can’t touch cows or even the cow-shed because cows are holy.”

With only 6% of schools in Bangladesh providing menstrual hygiene education, the immense shame regarding menstruation remains stagnant. Many girls are unaware of how to properly manage their period, while 36% of girls are oblivious about what a period is. Ultimately, this lack of information leads to one in four girls skipping school during their period. By increasing education about menstruation, girls can become more aware of their natural cycles, learn to properly manage them and lessen the shame that comes with menstruating.

WASH Facilities

There are many different layers to menstruation health management, including proper facilities, hygienic products and access to menstruation information. A survey by the World Bank uncovered that on average, Bangladesh households have a challenging time of satisfying all needs for proper menstruation hygiene. In fact, only 23% of women used proper menstrual products. Instead, most of the female population reuses old cloths that they frequently improperly wash or dry, resulting in a higher risk of urinary infections. A lack of hygienic latrines places another burden on women who try their best to hide the fact that they menstruate. In the village Char Bramagacha, there are only 22 hygienic toilets in comparison to the 308 unhygienic ones. These toilets often comprise of bamboo and cloth and do not offer any privacy for women to regularly change their menstrual cloths. Because of the lack of hygiene and privacy, many women miss school or work.

3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty

  1. Bangladesh WASH Alliance: The Bangladesh WASH Alliance works to promote inclusive and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services. In the past six years, the organization has been able to grant 248,837 people access to improved sanitation facilities and 229,989 people with improved water resources. By providing access to hygienic facilities, women have a lesser chance of health risks and absences. The WASH Alliance is also working towards improving gender inequality by expanding women’s social participation and gender-equal practices in WASH businesses.
  2. PERIOD: To combat period poverty and the stigma around menstruation, high schoolers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand established PERIOD, a nonprofit organization that offers homeless women proper menstrual products. As of today, PERIOD has been able to assist approximately 1.2 million women in accessing the proper products for a safe, hygienic period cycle.
  3. Resurgence: Resurgence, founded by three university activists, is another organization working to combat period poverty within Bangladesh. This group has distributed and produced low-cost menstruation pads for thousands of women and girls. Resurgence has achieved this by utilizing an otherwise invasive plant called the water hyacinth as its primary material. It also employs women from these communities to handle the production and distribution of its water hyacinth pads throughout slums, rural areas and other affected locations.

Although societal beliefs place a big burden on the fight against period poverty, Bangladesh is still stepping in the right direction by increasing education about menstrual health and placing international support on gender inequality. Ultimately, the most effective way to combat period poverty has been through foreign aid with a focus on eliminating improper hygiene facilities and misinformation.

– Maiya Falach
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

 

 

Organizations Fighting Period PovertyLack of access to menstrual products impacts many girls and women in both the developing and developed world. Having a period without access to proper sanitation products can hurt a girl’s educational and life opportunities. However, these four organizations fighting period poverty are providing access and empowerment to girls and women in need.

Top 4 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty

  1. PERIOD
    Highschoolers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand founded PERIOD in 2014 to combat period poverty and period stigma. Okamoto was inspired to help launch the nonprofit after dealing with homelessness as a teen. Homeless women often lack access to menstrual products because they cannot afford them or because shelters do not have enough products to go around. Today, PERIOD has more than 300 chapters that help distribute period products around the world, and so far, 510,181 women have been served by PERIOD’s work. The nonprofit is also fighting to eliminate the luxury tax on tampons and pads in the U.S. and abroad.
  2. Freedom4Girls
    Founded in 2016 by Tina Leslie, Freedom4Girls was inspired by Leslie’s experience working with the charity Maji Safi Projects in Kenya. During her time there, Leslie helped with Maji Safi Projects’ period poverty campaign, which consisted of creating sewing workshops for local women, making washable, reusable menstrual pads and delivering the pads to schools in the semi-rural area of Mombasa. The project also provided reproductive and menstrual education to girls and women in the community. Currently, Freedom4Girls provides menstrual products to 30 schools in the U.K. in order to increase girls’ abilities to go to school and participate in extracurricular activities while on their periods, since often, teachers are tasked with supplying menstrual products to their students. Freedom4Girls also works with community groups and other organizations fighting period poverty to host “Donation Stations” in order to collect menstrual products for other vulnerable groups, such as refugees.
  3. Dignity Period
    Dignity Period is a prime example of women’s empowerment and women’s health coming together to improve lives. In 2014, Fulbright Scholar Dr. Lewis Wall spent eight months improving residency education in gynecology and obstetrics at Mekelle University’s College of Health Sciences in Ethiopia. During his time there, he and his wife met Freweini Mebrahtu, owner of the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory. Seeing that period poverty was an issue that could be resolved through outreach, education and empowerment, Wall and Mebrahtu partnered to create Dignity Period. Today, Dignity Period partners with Mekelle University to conduct studies about the socioeconomic and cultural impact of periods and to provide education; at the same time, the nonprofit provides reusable menstrual pads to community members through Mebrahtu’s factory, which trains and employs women in the area.
  4. Days for Girls
    Days for Girls (DfG), like other organizations fighting period poverty, provides reusable menstrual products for girls in need. However, it is unique in the way its menstrual products are created and how they impact communities. Days for Girls has developed menstrual product kits that are provided to women and girls in need. Each DfG Kit is sewn by volunteer individuals or chapters and begins as a Portable Object of Dignity (POD). PODs include one waterproof shield and two absorbent liners and serve as gateways to the creation of small businesses for local women. PODs are extremely affordable and can be easily adapted to the needs of the customer, meaning that women in developing countries can use PODs to start and grow their own micro-enterprises selling DfG Kits. There are five kits currently distributed by Days for Girls: the POD, DfG POD Plus, Supreme DfG Kit, Heavy Flow DfG Kit and the Menstrual Cup Kit. Each kit contains reusable menstrual pads, a washcloth, a drawstring bag, panties and other essentials for a dignified period.

Women and girls around the world face the impacts of not having access to menstrual products and reproductive education. Absences from school, decreased opportunities for socioeconomic mobility and loss of dignity are only a few of the struggles faced by those living in period poverty. As a result, organizations fighting period poverty are taking a stand to empower these women and improve their futures.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay