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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

 

 

water, sanitation and hygiene
Undernutrition is a major cause of disease and death that affects millions of people worldwide. A direct cause of undernutrition is disease indirectly related to factors such as contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation and hygiene. WASH United aims to fulfill the basic human right to clean drinking water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene the Building Blocks of Global Health

Since 2010, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has been working to improve water, sanitation and hygiene services and practices in more than 100 countries worldwide. Last year, nearly 14 million people were provided with access to clean water and more than 11 million with basic toilets.

WASH is the unified term for water, sanitation and hygiene. Although each is a separate issue, success in one category is dependent on the other. For example, without clean water, basic hygiene is not possible; without toilets, sources of water become polluted. By focusing efforts on these dependent factors, WASH United hopes to increase the awareness of and access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

Water

Each year 800,000 children are killed by diarrhea caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene skills. This is more than the number of children killed by AIDS, malaria and measles combined. UNICEF reports that the risk of diarrhea can be reduced by almost 50 percent by washing hands with soap before eating and after using the toilet. WASH United works to make hand washing a habit for everyone through interactive games and positive messaging.

Sanitation

Worldwide, 2.4 billion people lack access to a hygienic toilet while 946 million have no access to a toilet of any kind. Instead, they use open places in and around their communities such as railroad tracks and ditches. Even with access, there are tens of thousands of toilets in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that are abandoned and unused. WASH United strives to change attitudes through innovative tools around sanitation and create a demand for toilets. 

Hygiene

A 2013 UNICEF study reported that one out of three girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation before starting their period, while 48 percent of girls in Iran and 10 percent of girls in India believed that menstruation is a disease. WASH United aims to educate women about important components of hygiene during menstruation and work closely with communities to motivate positive practices. 

To date, WASH United has reached 500 million people through campaigns and media work and has trained 200,000 children in good WASH behavior. However, there is still work to do. WASH United aims to achieve water, sanitation and hygiene for all people by 2030, and aspires to reach the World Health Assembly global nutrition targets by 2025. These targets include: 

  • A 40 percent reduction in the number of children under five years of age who are stunted
  • A 50 percent reduction of anemia in women of reproductive age
  • A 30 percent reduction of low birth weight
  • Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50 percent
  • Reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5 percent

Although there is still much to achieve, WASH United has already impacted the lives of millions. To date, it has reached 500 million people through campaigns and media work and has trained 200,000 children in good water, sanitation and hygiene behavior.

– Anne-Marie Maher
Photo: Flickr