Even though menstruation is a natural cycle affecting millions and millions of people every month there is still so much silence surrounding the topic. The Badger has been attempting to break this silence through a series of period-related articles, tackling the topics that the government fails to address. The gap in period narrative is particularly destructive when it comes to discussing women’s periods as a development challenge, or talking about the situation for women and girls in poverty, conflicts and disasters related to menstruation.
You may have heard of different practices throughout cultures where women need to stay separate from the rest of their peers during their periods. Many girls in low-income countries are absent from school up to one week every month due to the fact they have their period. In Zimbabwe, 20% of girls in rural areas skip school when they menstruate, which is reflective of many African countries. The schools might not have proper toilets, and the girls cannot afford sanitary pads. Can you imagine how it would feel to use old paper or old cloths, to have blood bleeding through your clothes? Millions of women are forced to use old rugs or other homemade sanitary-pads. According to Plan International, up to 88% of women in the developing world that doesn´t have access to sanitary pads. But in which ways can issues relating to periods be manifested as development issues? What are the actual challenges? How do you handle issues with menstruation in a war-zone or natural disaster?
There is a stigma surrounding women’s periods in developing countries, the issue itself absent from the political agenda. The limitations placed on women during their period restrict their daily life. There is a huge lack of information among girls and women, and in the wider community, about how to change this. For example, in several parts of the world there are restrictions on what women can do during menstruation due to them being considered ‘unclean’. In Nepal, the practice of Chaupadi is prevalent, which is the idea that women have to be separated from others while they have their periods. They are supposed to stay in special houses. As a result, some women have died during their period due to lack of food, coldness in the night, or even due to snakes. This might also mean that they miss work or school, leading many girls to drop out of their studies.
Menstruation has long seen been separated from sanitation practices. Wash-programs have forgotten about periods, even though unhygienic pads impacts the health, and also dirty water. In Zimbabwe this crucial aspect is left out of programs at schools, many male-teachers failing to address the problem of periods, an important issue when the large percentage of teachers are men. In some parts of Congo there was only one facility for women.
Period poverty in developing countries has finally started to become part of the agenda. Oxfam included menstruation in their response to the earthquake in Pakistan, for example. It was important to find ways to dispose the sanitary pads but also to make high walls for the toilets and washing rooms, since women felt ashamed when they had to wash the re-usable cloths.
Another way to encourage solutions for the lack of menstruation pads is to work with menstrual cups. Unlike pads and tampons, a menstrual cup can be re-used for a time-period of 10 years, and is easy to wash. Whilst this solution does not address the difficulty many women have even accessing clean water, and in many cases brings about new questions of hygiene, it provides hope for the future of third-world sanitation. Several organizations are handing out flow-cups in the Global South, but it is also important to educate communities. Until we open up the menstrual conversation on a global scale, the level of change we are able to implement is limited to our community.