In many parts of the world, poor women and girls try in agonizing silence to manage their periods, while lacking water, restrooms, and hygienic sanitary materials.
Menstruation is a natural biological function and essential to good reproductive health. But cultural and religious taboos mean it continues to be treated as shameful and dirty.
On May 28, 2015, activists around the world will join WASH United, a global humanitarian organization, in celebrating the second annual International Menstrual Hygiene Day. The mission of the day is to break the taboo around menstruation and raise awareness of the associated dilemmas many women and girls face.
International Menstrual Hygiene Day provides a platform to explore our social attitudes toward menstruation and to engage in the much-needed work of reproductive justice.
In many places, women face monthly marginalization and are prevented from participating in religious ceremonies, cooking meals, or communicating with family members. Because of stigma around menstruation, many girls do not receive proper health education. A study from UNICEF revealed, prior to its onset, 1 out of 3 girls in South Asia had no education about menstruation, while 48 percent of girls in Iran are taught that it is a disease.
Sufficient reproductive education and menstrual management allows women and girls to fully participate within their communities, and adequate sanitary wear-and-wash facilities are vital components. In some underdeveloped countries, women and girls resort to unhealthy alternatives such as sand, feathers, old clothes, and cow dung as absorbents. These alternatives are not hygienic and often lead to infections, as well as embarrassing leakages.
Schools and workplaces often do not provide private facilities for women and girls to manage their periods. As a result, they miss days of school and work on a regular basis. According to WASH United, a study at a school in Uganda found that half of the girls miss at least 3 days of school per month, while 73 pecent of Bangladeshi garment workers miss up to six days per month due to vaginal infections caused by using cloth collected from the factory floor.
In order to optimally engage socially and economically, women and girls must have their most basic needs met — including safe and affordable sanitary materials and restrooms. This reminder is needed even in the United States and other developed countries, where homeless, displaced, or otherwise marginalized women face similar barriers to care.
It's time to break the silence and get personal about the issue of blood faced by disadvantaged women and girls around the world. International Menstrual Hygiene Day is a great place to start.
Helping women and girls realize their full potential requires that we de-mystify menstruation — and that is the work of both women and men. Men and boys must receive accurate reproductive education as well, in order to become empathizers and menstrual advocates. Menstruation has to become normalized within cultures and societies, and addressed with the concern it deserves. Governments and community organizations must work together to ensure women and girls have the necessary tools to succeed in education and the workplace.
International Menstrual Hygiene Day matters because women and girls matter, and so does their health, safety, and dignity.
Cece Jones-Davis is founder of The Women & Girls Working Group (WGWG), a consortium of faith-motivated women and men working to raise awareness around Menstrual Hygiene Management. For more information, visit www.welovewomenandgirls.com or @womenandgirlswg.