Where do I start? Let’s start by trying to understand what menstruation is – in simple terms, it is a female body’s’ way of releasing tissue that it no longer needs, unless the female becomes pregnant. Biologically, it sounds so natural, like a monthly preparation for a potential new being. It is such an important process for human reproduction – something so pure and significant for humanity YET at least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene and only 12% of women menstruating globally are able to afford sanitary pads or products.

What does this lack of menstruation hygiene mean for girls?

Imagine not having availability to sanitary products to manage your menstruation? Imagine using a reused cloth or rag? Imagine going to school and not having somewhere to dispose of used sanitary pads, or not having water to wash your hands? Or not having a separate toilet for girls to feel like they can manage their menstruation in a safe and dignified way?

When a female can no longer manage her period at her school due to lack of sanitary products and hygiene, she is less productive. She then remains absent during her menstruation period for fear of leaking, or falls out of school totally. The lack of affordability for sanitary products also means that many women use dirty reused old rags to try absorb their menstrual flow. This leads to infections and affect their reproductive systems as they grow older.

Having a period, shouldn’t have to cost a girl an education. At such a young age we already see gender disparity where our female counterparts are not getting an equal opportunity compared to our male counterparts. This is how girls fall behind with their education. The importance of keeping our girls in school cannot be emphasized enough. Evidence has shown that every additional year of education can increase a woman’s earnings up to 25 percent over the course of her lifetime.

Absence of appropriate menstruation hygiene and products not only affects female’s acquisition of education but also their reproductive health. 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.

So how and why is it the way it is?

There are so many layers to this question. The challenge of menstruating girls does not only end with infrastructural problems, it is deep rooted in social norms and beliefs. Menstruation is associated with taboos and clouded with stigmas around the world. In many societies menstruating women are considered impure and excluded from daily activities such as education, jobs, cultural and religious activities.

Period shaming is everywhere. Take Instagram’s removal of Rupi Kaur’s photo of a woman whose menstrual blood had seeped through her pants, or the criticism of Kiran Gandhi for free-bleeding while running the London marathon April 2015. Kiran Gandhi said, “If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose. Where a woman’s comfort supersedes that of the observer. I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day.”If you thought this was bad, period shaming in non-western countries is often far worse.

This leads to an overall culture of silence around the topic, resulting in limited information on menstrual hygiene. This misinformation not only has ramifications on the health but also dignity of women.

This then brings me to talk about how the disregard of menstrual hygiene needs establishes the lower status of women and girls – reflecting the patriarchal society we live in.

Given the multiple challenges girls face, it is evident that promoting menstrual hygiene is not only a sanitation matter. The lack of hygiene means less opportunities for women to be out there in the task force during their menstruation. It is a matter of dignity and equal opportunities.

It is about considering a sanitary product as a BASIC need – something that it is not considered as, at the moment. Apparently tampons are still classed as a “luxury item” and taxed but edible sugar flowers, helicopters, herbal tea can be considered as “essential” hence the government continues to withhold tax for such items!

To make sanitary products affordable is an important step but what’s also significant is to make menstruation sanitation BASIC.

To voice out and to talk about menstruation as a normal bodily function and NOT a taboo. It starts with US!

You and I – we should not need to hide our sanitary products in our hand bags when we go change at our workplace, or to place a sanitary pad box in the lowest cupboard at home but rather place it out on your dressing table like you would your hair brush. Let’s speak openly about it and educate the men and women in our lives.

Normalising menstruation will mean we aren’t hiding it anymore. It was recently announced that there will be period and menstruation related emoji’s have been developed, a step in the right direction towards normalising the conversation.

If WE cannot normalise periods, how do we expect to reach out to girls in rural settings who don’t know enough but follow age old traditions and are paying the price?

Let’s make noise, so our girls can stay longer in schools and task forces. Let’s speak openly, so that better education can lead to better reproductive health in women. Let’s keep conversing so that the ripple effect can reach out to communities who can finally shed the shame and stigma attached to menstruation.

Let’s END the stigma, SMASH the shame, and help every girl have a safe PERIOD!


Guest blog by Hiral Savla. 

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