Culture & Religion Health

Effective Cyclical Sanitation for Girls Need Loud Voices, Not Silenced Periods

Sanitation and development are intersectional topics that are widely recognized and discussed– except for a particular topic which halts girls and women’s daily routine.

Every month, a girl somewhere around the world will miss school, be psychologically distressed, socially excluded all because of a natural body function: the menstruation cycle.

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According to UNICEF, one in ten girls in Africa skip school during their menstruation cycle.  The Guardian explains that “girls in Kenya miss an average of 4.9 days of school,” but some also stop attending school completely due to a lack of sanitary products and facilities to change and clean. Furthermore, there is a severe stigmatization in various developing countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger, India, and Cambodia regarding menstruation cycle on a socio-economic and cultural level. Some girls and women are denied human interaction, ability to work or attend school, just because of their menstrual cycle. Specifically, girls and women living in rural areas lack access to clean and efficient hygiene products during their menstruation cycle. Thus, this intersectional topic also crosscuts education, gender rights, social dignity and inclusion beyond health issues.

 Most evidently, lack of clean products aggravates health risks for girls and women. The Guardian notes that 70% of reproductive diseases derive from poor hygiene in India as 45% to 88% of girls use reusable cloths as pads which are washed with unclean water and without soap. In other countries, other materials used as alternatives sanitary napkins include newspapers, rags, leaves, and grass. According to Huffington Post,

2.4 billion people globally lack access to improved sanitation, and woman and girls make up the biggest population. Moreover, only 10 per cent of women have access to commercial sanitary products [globally], which means that 90 per cent of women globally resort to using homemade alternative methods.

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Lack of proper sanitation products, facilities, along with socio-cultural exclusion and stigma hinder the continuity of daily activities for girls and women. It is a global issue that needs immediate attention, rather than undermining the issue.

Here are some reasons outlining on the need for a greater global discussion and implementation for empowering and supporting girls and women during their menstruation cycle:

  1.  There is a lack of access to quality, affordable hygiene products especially for those in low-middle income countries.
  2.  There is a lack of facilities to dispose of used products. According to News Deeply, disposable napkins are not the solution to avoid potential health risks caused by reusable cloths as many girls and women try to hide evidence that they are menstruating as they “can’t find trash cans to throw away their pads.” In addition, the article explains that “disposable products can clog up sanitation systems…with a large volume of non-biodegradable material.”
  3. Girls and women are psychologically distressed because of the possibility of staining their clothes at schools or workplace. The potential event of “public shaming” threaten their dignity.
  4. There are varying cultural stigmas which socially exclude girls and women from living their day to day activities.
  5. There is a lack of conversation on a global scale to empower girls and women to embrace their natural cycle, rather than interpreting as a barrier to their daily routine.
  6. There is a lack of education on understanding the menstruation cycle and it’s sanitation measures which can mutually raise awareness on sexual health as well. This education must include all genders, not just girls.
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Girls receive a year worth of Sanitary Napkins from Freedom from Girls, Mathare slums in Nairobi, Kenya

All in all, it is important to engage in global discussions to minimize stigma and taboo of menstruation cycles. It is a public (health) issue, not a private matter. A natural cycle and accessibility to adequate products and facilities must be voiced and accepted globally, not be silenced as an invisible period.

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