For many women, periods are seen as inconvenient—a time of the month we’d rather skip over. However in some countries around the world and for those living under the poverty line, periods can be more than just a minor inconvenience. You may think that feminine hygiene items are readily available and relatively inexpensive, and that most women would be able to afford this basic necessity. Surprisingly, this is not always the case. In some cases, something as simple as having a period can have an unfortunate impact on a woman. Here are some of the ways that menstruation still holds women back.
In Kenya, girls can miss an average of 5 days of school each month due to their period. Some girls drop out of school entirely because they don’t have access to sanitary products. Instead they will use cotton wool, pages from an exercise book or leaves from trees. If a girl’s education is under threat, it will affect her life in numerous ways. Research shows girls who drop out of school are more likely to become pregnant at an early age, less likely to have good health and more likely to contract diseases like HIV and AIDS.
Closer to home in Australia, girls in remote Indigenous communities are even stealing sanitary pads and skipping school for several days during their periods. Schools in some areas were reported to have no sanitary bins in bathrooms. Reports also claim the hygiene standards were not acceptable in modern day Australia.
Hygiene and illness
Basic hygiene is vital to health, and the consequences of poor hygiene are vast and severe. A whopping 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. In urban India, many girls use a reusable cloth during menstruation, yet these are not adequately sanitised after use. Lack of hygiene can cause diseases like gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and hepatitis A as well as parasites like scabies infection, hookworm and giardiasis.
We know that menstruation is a natural process, but in many parts of the world it remains taboo. Girls face stigma over having their period and because of the lack of dialogue, misinformation spreads which leads to dangerous hygiene practices.
According to WaterAid, in many Nepalese villages the belief is that girls should sleep outside or else the other villagers will get sick and their goats will die. Some believe it is a sin to be close to their family members while they are on their period. Girls are not allowed to eat with their families, use the same water sources, or even touch the men in their families, lest they be responsible for ‘polluting’ them.
While it may seem like an issue for lands far away, some women in Western countries also have difficulty accessing sanitary items. Just this month, Scotland announced their fight against “period poverty” by giving more than 1,000 women and girls on low incomes free sanitary products for six months. It is a problem that women at food banks have experienced, due to the cost of sanitary items that they simply cannot afford. It’s certainly a step in the right direction!
Dignity Period , Femme International and Australian-based organisations Launch Pad and Share the Dignity are all doing great things to help ensure access to sanitary products and education about menstruation.