Stigma around periods is a major cause of gender inequality in the developing world. A lack of access to sanitary products and private toilets, and feelings of shame and embarrassment about periods, cause millions of girls and women to miss school and ...and more »
Is Meghan Markle going to change the world for women? The charities chosen by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to receive contributions in lieu of wedding gifts have already reported unprecedented levels of donations.
But when the Duchess, a proud feminist, selected a small charity in India that offers women access to sanitary products, she was hailed for highlighting the deeply unfashionable subject of periods. The issue of 'period poverty', and its effects on women both here and internationally, is finally gaining attention: the Girl Guides has just announced it is introducing a badge dedicated to it.
The charity, Myna Mahila Foundation, aims to break taboos around menstrual hygiene in India, and employs women in Mumbai’s urban slums to make affordable sanitary pads and then sell them back into their communities. The organisation was the only non-British charity on the Duke and Duchess’s list.
Stigma around periods is a major cause of gender inequality in the developing world. A lack of access to sanitary products and private toilets, and feelings of shame and embarrassment about periods, cause millions of girls and women to miss school and work, raising the risk of them dropping out completely. Girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss as much as 20 per cent of school days because of menstruation, according to UNESCO.
The charity in India is one organisation named by the royal couple which will benefit from donations in lieu of wedding presents Credit: Karwai Tang /WireImage
The effects are far-reaching: without access to clean water and hygiene products, girls and women often use old rags or cloths, leading to an increased risk of infections. Research from Ethiopia shows 25 per cent of girls both in rural and urban settings do not use any menstrual products.
In some regions, myths and cultural beliefs about periods see girls being kept inside and forbidden from touching people or handling food, or even punished for menstruating. In some areas of Africa, India and Nepal menstruating women are forced to live in sheds outside their houses for fear they will ‘contaminate’ the family home. Recent reports of women found dead in ‘menstrual huts’ in rural Nepal have prompted the government to announce a crackdown on the ancient practice.
The Duchess of Sussex is passionate about this issue, writing in Time magazine after visiting India in 2017: “In communities all over the globe, young girls’ potential is being squandered because we are too shy to talk about the most natural thing in the world”.
The more we see role models speaking out in this way, the better able we are to end stigma and discriminationLouisa Gosling, WaterAid
For decades, embarrassment about periods meant it simply wasn't recognised as an issue in global poverty, but now menstruation is having a ‘moment’: next Monday is Menstrual Hygiene Day, which aims to galvanise governments, charities and the media to address challenges faced by women because of menstruation. As the world’s most talked about woman, development workers have praised Meghan Markle for highlighting this issue.
“We are hugely grateful to TRH Duke and Duchess of Sussex for using their power of influence to shine the spotlight on menstrual hygiene and help change attitudes towards periods,” says Louisa Gosling at WaterAid. “The more we see role models speaking out in this way, the better able we are to end stigma and discrimination and to ensure that women and girls have the means to care for themselves hygienically and safely during their monthly cycle.”
Along with improving access to sanitary products and clean, private toilets, Gosling says it’s also important to improve understanding of what periods are, not just among girls but boys, parents and teachers.
A report by Wateraid and UNICEF released on Tuesday suggests the situation is improving. School sanitation in South Asia increased by 21 per cent in the five years up to 2013, and several countries have started to include clear information about menstruation in school curriculums.
But there is still much work to be done: over a third of girls in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan report missing school days every month during their periods, due to inadequate toilet facilities lacking water, privacy or disposal options, and social and cultural restrictions – such as not being allowed to play sports, go to school, or visit religious spaces.
We need everyone to be open to talking about periods, whether they are a teenage girl, a parent, a teacher – or a politician or public figureLouisa Gosling, WaterAid
Any woman will tell you that embarrassment and misinformation about menstrual hygiene is not just an issue in the developing world. In recent years sportswomen such as the Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui and two times Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova have been praised for speaking about how periods affect their career.
Last year came reports that British schoolgirls, unable to afford tampons and pads, were missing school because they were terrified of bleeding onto their uniforms. A campaign was launched, backed by the likes of supermodel Adwoa Aboah, who wrote about the subject for Vogue. In March, the government announced that money generated from the ‘tampon tax’ – an estimated £15 million would go towards ending period poverty in Britain.
Such debates have got women in the West thinking more about how those in the developing world cope with menstruation, and prompted some innovative ideas.
London start up Freda, an eco friendly sanitary product delivery service, gives a portion of the profits from every subscription to charities providing menstrual hygiene products to food banks and asylum seeker centres in the UK and to Kilipads, a social enterprise in Tanzania.
Initiatives like these, which get all of us talking more openly about menstruation, are a vital step towards helping girls and women manage their periods with dignity and confidence, and continuing the battle for equality, says Louisa Gosling.
“We need everyone to be open to talking about periods, whether they are a teenage girl, a parent, a teacher – or a politician or public figure.”
May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day. Watch WaterAid’s short film about their #PeriodProud campaign here
Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security
News,Health and Fitness,Standard,Features,Fertility,Global Health Security