|Sign in Indonesia, Source: Flikr Creative Commons|
According to the Geneva-based Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), even sectors such as water and sanitation which “routinely deal with unmentionables such as excreta, ignore girl’s and women’s need for safe spaces to manage menstrual hygiene and mechanisms for safe disposal of materials used to absorb menstrual blood.” As we all know, ignoring a problem -- or menstruation -- does not make it go away. NGO Plan International and A C Nielsen conducted a study and estimated that there are 355 million menstruating women in India -- but only 12% of them use sanitary napkins. The study even found that 23% of Indian girls drop out of school after reaching puberty, with irreversible effects on their health, well-being and participation in society. Millions of girls and women instead rely on old rags, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspaper to manage their monthly menstrual flows -- shrouded by shame and disgust on a vital bodily function.
Columbia University, Millennium Promise and the social enterprise, Be Girl also hosted pilots for menstrual hygiene products and one of their participants, Patience, a 15-year-old girl from Ruhiira, Uganda told them “you suffer a lot; in case you stamp [stain] the boys can make fun of you which causes you to lose your self-esteem […] it’s embarrassing when you are washing your soiled clothes. It makes you not even want to go to school.” The washing of stained rags or clothing can also bring shame, especially in areas of water scarcity. Be Girl reports that in rural Africa, 40% of school girls miss up to 5 school days a month, or 30% of the school year. WaterAid found that 82% of their surveyed girls in Malawi did now know about menstruation before it started; girls across their surveyed countries were found to be excluded from water sources during menstruation, and even prohibited from washing and bathing in some communities making what is often a difficult week even more difficult to bear.
To make this happen, WSSCC believes that breaking the silence around the taboo of menstruation is a crucial first step. Girls should be informed and encouraged to talk and discuss menstruation in an informed and positive manner to prepare them emotionally and physically for the onset of menstruation and their monthly menstrual periods. Families need the education to support their girls and women. WaterAid has also compiled a phenomenal guide, Menstrual Hygiene Matters, with nine modules and tool kits -- an essential resource -- to improve menstrual hygienic for women and girls in lower and middle-income countries.
WaterAid found that well designed and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that address menstrual hygiene can make a significant difference to the schooling experience of adolescent girls
(Photo: WaterAid/ASM Shafiqur Rahman)