Why we need to break the silence on menstruation

Angeline Makore:

Girls all over the world face daunting challenges concerning their menstrual hygiene management. Worse still, those who reside in countries where culture is highly romanticised, menstrual blood is seen as a mythical phenomenon which is so taboo to the extent that it is not discussed or talked about in open spaces. Hence, girls suffer silently with no available options to talk about their menstruation, either within the home or at school and community level. When girls are having their periods there is a lot of stigma around menstruation, to the extent that it affects their mobility; for instance they are not allowed to go outside and if they do, they will be bound in the sacred rooms where a menstruating girl is supposed to live until she finishes menstruating.

In reference to some African cultures in the sub-Saharan region, during menstruation a girl is not allowed to prepare meals because she is considered ‘unclean’ and she is doomed not to touch anything. Given these circumstances, one can wonder how millions of girls around the world are really pulling through every month.

“Her menstruation days has befallen, she starts to worry now that she will miss school days, Her father’s harsh voice instructing her to stay in the house and not touch anything echoes in her mind. She lives in an isolated rural setting, cow dung, leaves and rugs are the methods of covering her menstrual blood that she only knows. The thought of her private parts itching and the uncomfortable feeling that she experiences afterwards breaks and shatters her heart in different million pieces”

To achieve the United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goal number three (ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing at all ages), breaking the silence on menstruation is an essential component in accelerating efforts for healthy lives for all. Why? Unless menstruation is vividly discussed across all spectrums, girls will continue to wail in silence. Their health will be jeopardised as they continue to use unconventional methods of sustaining their menstruation and educational outcomes of the girls will be hindered.

“Girls are pillars of the community”, an African proverb, suggests that if girls miss their education due menstruation, the pillars of the community become loose and thereby weaken societies.

The efforts toward the elimination of the stigma associated with menstruation should not be the responsibility of a limited number of people within a given community. There must be collaborative efforts on the matter. If the menstrual hygiene management needs of girls and young women are not met, it is the violation of their human rights including their human dignity, their health and privacy.

Governments should prioritise how the issue of menstrual hygiene management is addressed. For example, enacting viable policies and services that comprehensively caters for the sexual reproductive health needs of girls while also taking into cognisance menstrual hygiene management. Efforts such as those by California’s 2016 Legislative session in the USA which saw an Assembly Bill 1561 exempting feminine hygiene products from sales taxes are highly commendable. Efforts should not be a one size fits all; we all know that every country is unique in its own right, however I believe that menstruation must be on the public agenda so that everyone gets to taste the menu on the plate. This will enhance gender equality and banish male’s views about menstruation and possibly encourage men and boys to actively involve themselves in menstrual hygiene management.

At grassroots levels, the most vital factor is to engage families, community leaders and other duty bearers through education-based intervention programs. Sometimes it is not the culture that needs to be changed, it is the belief system that needs to be enhanced with empowering knowledge that will change the perspectives about menstruation.

It is also high time for the corporate world to lend resources and funds towards menstrual hygiene management programs globally. Companies and business have a pivotal role as part of their social responsibility policies. Girls’ health, including menstrual hygiene, should be on top of their agenda. The corporate world’s participation in women’s’ issues is more important now than ever; they have the resources to support efforts in the development and provision of sustainable and ecological solutions and innovations related to menstrual hygiene management.

Menstruation matters to me and I have various reasons why; unsafe and unhygienic materials to absorb menstrual blood can lead to vaginal infections, with possible long term effects on reproductive health; psycho-social effects – menstruation is often associated with shame and disgust, resulting in negative attitudes; in many cases girls will not attend school for the duration of their periods and this is usually evident in schools with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and lack of limited waste-management; non-reusable items pose great threats into the environment.

Without girls at the forefront, all efforts can go in vain. Girls are the epitome of hope towards the realisation of communities, societies and nations embracing menstruation as a normal thing. Mechanisms need to be in place to cater for the menstrual hygiene management. 

Girls must stand up and speak up about their rights to a beautiful period where you have access to safe menstrual absorbents and a supportive community that helps you hygienically manage your menstruation with smiles on your faces. Do not be ashamed embrace your womanhood with confidence.

Menstruation is a biological process that naturally happens to females; menstruation being called a ‘taboo phenomenon’ is wrong. Existing socio-cultural taboos and discriminatory practices around menstruation need to be challenged throughout the world.