Menstruation is inarguably a natural part of a woman’s health cycle, but for those who live in underserved areas, it’s their most dreaded time of the month.
Due to a lack of access to sanitary products, girls are often forced to miss school and low-income women are more susceptible to infections and other devastating consequences. In places where women’s bodies are viewed with suspicion, damaging social stigmas and myths cast them away from the community, limiting their job options and social interactions, which inevitably takes an incalculable socioeconomic, physical and mental toll on their lives.
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This gender issue had its moment recently on Menstrual Hygiene Day, but advocates worldwide are still continuing to fight to break taboos, and do away with damaging menstruation myths.
Here are some of the unfair ways women have to deal with their periods worldwide -- and what’s being done about it.
1. In Many Countries, Girls Cut Up Pieces Of Mattress Or Use Twigs and Leaves As Pads, Causing Infection
Costing about 60 cents a pop, a package of sanitary pads, even the cheapest kind, is far too expensive for the average girl in Kenya to purchase, according to Project Humanity. As a result, menstruating girls will resort to using rags, leaves, newspaper, bits of mattress stuffing or even mud, to fashion some form of protection to use when they have their periods. In addition to being uncomfortable and ineffective, these slipshod sanitary methods also raise health concerns.
To ensure girls get the protection they need, and don’t have to miss school just because they have their periods, Femme International provides kits to girls in East Africa that equip them with all the supplies they need. Each kit contains a menstrual cup or reusable pads, a bowl for washing the reusable cup, a small towel, a bar of soap and a handheld mirror.
2. In Parts of Japan, Women Can’t Hold Traditionally Male Jobs Like Sushi Chef Because Menstruation Causes "Imbalance"
You’d probably be more likely to find endangered Bluefin tuna on a menu than a name of a female sushi chef.
As tradition dictates, women have been excluded from the field because they menstruate, Yoshikazu Ono, son of a famed Japanese sushi chef told The Wall Street Journal back in 2011.
“To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs,” Ono glibly told the news outlet.
Proving that the only “imbalance” is the way in which they’re treated, women in Japan, and in other parts of globe, are fishing their way into the male-dominated field.
Back in 1999, a law mandating equality in hiring and lifting a ban on women working past 10 p.m. has helped level the playing field in Japan, The New York Times reported. To create a new model for women, a businessman opened up a sushi restaurant in Japan in 2011 that hires only female staff, the Journal reported.
3. In Parts Of Nepal, Menstruating Girls Are Banished To Dark Rooms
Though it was outlawed in 2005, the chaupadi tradition -- which involves isolating menstruating girls for a week -- still persists in rural villages in the western Nepal, according to Women eNews.
These women and girls are typically sent to live in a shed during this period, where they have minimal protection from the elements, can develop life-threatening illnesses and have little to no human contact.
Determined to put an end to the practice, Rupa Chand Shah teaches an awareness course, which she encourages girls to attend even while they’re menstruating, and hopes her work will help abolish chaupadi, according to Reuters.
4. Right Here In the U.S., Homeless Women Say Getting Their Periods Is One Of The Worst Struggles
Nearly every pre-menopausal woman needs them, but tampons and sanitary pads often top the list of what women’s shelters lack most, Al Jazeera reported earlier this year. The items are pricey and supporters often don’t think to donate them.
Exacerbating the issue is the fact that homeless women also often don’t have access to clean showers, which makes it extra challenging to remain clean and free of infection while menstruating.
To help homeless women in need, Distributing Dignity is one of a number of nonprofits that focuses its efforts on doling out feminine hygiene products to shelters in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Find out more about Distributing Dignity and how you can get involved here.
5. Menstruation Is A "Strict Secret" In Malawi
The shame surrounding getting your period is so pervasive in Malawi that parents simply don’t talk to their kids about it, according to UNICEF.
Girls often glean what little information they can from their aunts, who teach them how to fashion sanitary pads from old clothes and warn them not to talk to boys while they’re menstruating.
UNICEF’s Menstrual Hygiene Management program aims to break through the taboos and provide girls with the education and the resources they need to manage their periods comfortably and safely. The aid group builds sanitary facilities in schools that provide girls and boys with privacy, doles out sanitary pads to adolescent girls and has organized “mother groups” to teach girls about menstruation.
6. In Bolivia, Girls Are Told To Keep Pads Unseen And Out Of The Trash. They’re Even Led To Believe It Can Cause Cancer.
There’s still so much humiliation surrounding the issue of menstruation in Boliva that girls are urged, even by teachers, to keep their used sanitary pads far away from the rest of the trash.
Traditional beliefs hold that disposing their pads with other garbage could lead to sickness or cancer, according to UNICEF. Even when there’s a designated place to discard of menstrual pads, girls often collect them in their bags during the school day and to wait until they get home get rid of them.
After investigating 10 schools in Bolivia, UNICEF identified the main challenges menstruating girls face, including experiencing feelings of shame and having limited access to private restrooms, among other issues. The organization formed an action plan that would vastly improve the environment at schools for girls. It encouraged extensive menstrual education, increasing access to absorbent materials and upgrading sanitation facilities.
7. In Parts Of India, Women And Girls Are Told Their Periods Can "Pollute" Food, Like Spoiling A Pickled Vegetable
Folklore has some girls and women in India convinced that if they handle a pickled vegetable while they’re menstruating, it will spoil just by their touch, according an op-ed in The New York Times. But it’s not just the green vegetable they’re admonished to stay away from.
Women and girls are also told to avoid cooking anything altogether, since they can “pollute” the food.
To set the record straight among this demographic, Menstrupedia aims to dispel the harmful myths women and girls are subjected to in India through its engaging multimedia content.
8. In Afghanistan, Women Are Told They’ll Become Infertile If They Shower During Menstruation, Which Takes A Toll On Their Dignity
In Afghanistan, there’s a misconception that washing your genitals while you’re menstruating can lead to “gazag,” which means become infertile, according to Afghan Zaria.
To intervene early on, and teach girls safe hygiene habits, UNICEF’s WASH program incorporates menstrual hygiene facilities and teaches proper menstrual practices in schools in Afghanistan.
9. Nearly Half Of Girls In Iran Believe Menstruation Is A Disease
There’s still so much stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation in Iran that 48 percent of girls there think that it’s a disease, according to a UNICEF study.
Despite the longstanding misconceptions, interventions have proven to work.
A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that when girls in Iran were exposed to menstrual education, they took the lessons to heart and 61.6 percent of them started bathing when they had their periods.