In some cultures, menstruation is a rite of passage that is met with celebration and for some of us it couldn’t come fast enough, “I’m a woman now!” we exclaim. But for others, getting your period is something debilitating and dreaded every month. Where menstrual taboos are coupled with poor sanitation, hygiene and economics, that time of the month is a world away from hot water bottles, M&Ms and nifty menstrual cups. In these parts of the developing world, women are unable to confront their menses openly or safely and as a result are held back from realizing their full potential.
By educating ourselves on the difficulties women and girls face around the world during their period, we are better positioned to do something about it. Educating girls about their bodies and menstruation, as well as introducing them to better kinds of period protection is a huge task, but one that can make a big impact – and something we at Tips For Healthy Living strongly believe in.
So what is menstruation like for women in 5 developing countries?
Cultural myths and taboos surrounding menstruation are rife in India, where an estimated 200 million girls lack an awareness of menstrual hygiene and approximately 23% drop out of school every year due in part to insufficient sanitation and period protection. Organizations such as Menstrupedia have responded to these problems by tackling the lack of menstrual care education that is available to young girls and have been hugely influential undoing cultural stigmas in schools and at home.
In the Philippines, many schools have poor sanitation facilities and lack the knowledge to support young women and girls on their period. A consistent problem is the lack of education about puberty across the sexes, making boys aloof to their female peers. In fact, one of the major reasons for girls’ school absenteeism is the anxiety of teasing from male schoolmates about leaks, stains and odors. This can have damaging effects on young girls’ self-esteem and hold them back from fully participating in school-life.
In Western Nepal, a tradition called chhaupadi persists despite being outlawed by their Supreme Court in 2005. During menses, chhaupadi considers women to be ‘ritually impure’ and their touch is said to spread disease and contaminate food. As a result, menstruating women are banished from their homes to small, desolate huts on the fringes of their communities. Recently, more attention has been brought to these practices, with the goal of pressuring more conservative leaders to abandon the tradition and assure women that their periods do not have to confine them.
Damaging traditions persist in Bolivia where menstruating women are led to believe drinking, bathing in, or touching cold water will lead to cysts or even infertility. Girls must carry their used pads with them, often in school, as it is said that putting them in the trash can cause cancer. Yes, Bolivia’s menstrual care doctrine is brimming with misinformation, but luckily there are organisations such as UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative) who are producing valuable research on how girls experience menstruation in schools and at home, and providing comprehensive recommendations to tackle these issues.
In South Africa, meager incomes mean that disposable pads and tampons are not an option for millions of women, who instead rely on old rags, newspapers, dried leaves or reusing pads from previous cycles. As a result, it is all too common for young girls to skip school during their period to avoid leaks and because of poor sanitation – ultimately putting them at a huge disadvantage to their male peers.
In October 2016, Tips For Healthy Living donated 4000 Lily Cup Compacts to blogger Theodora Lee who went on to raise $3175 USD for their distribution around South Africa. The money raised will go towards getting the cups to the women and girls who need them most, providing them with education in menstrual hygiene and how to use their new cups. With 10 years of reusable menstrual protection, these women will no longer be at risk from infections due to insufficient period protection or have to miss out on school because of their time of the month!
Please note that advice offered by Tips For Healthy Living may not be relevant to your individual case. For specific concerns regarding your health, always consult your physician or other licensed medical practitioners.