Why we still need to talk about periods

Poor menstrual hygiene is linked to inadequate water and sanitation facilities.

In Summary

•Talk about menstruation every day, talk about it in schools, talk about it in government institutions, talk about it in policymaking sessions, talk about it on social media

Azziad Nasenya, a social media influencer.
Azziad Nasenya, a social media influencer.
Image: HANDOUT

Every  May 28, we come together to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, raising awareness about the lived experiences of women and girls worldwide.

While many have worked to lift the veil of silence around menstruation in our communities, much more needs to be done to ensure that women and girls do not suffer the indignity that comes with period poverty.

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to spend some time together on the #GenderAgenda online series by #Better4Kenya talking about menstrual health and reflecting on our experiences in our home countries; Kenya and Nigeria.

We shared our experiences about the stigma and shame that comes with a normal biological process.

We also talked about how the Covid-19 pandemic further exposed the inequalities that many menstrual justice activists throughout the world had been telling us for years.

Through our conversation one thing became evident, we still need to talk about periods. We still need to talk about sanitary product provision. We need to move away from thinking about the provision in terms of charity and aid and recognise that this is a basic need for women and girls.

We know from research that many girls on the continent are forced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for pads, popularly known as ‘sex for pads’.

We can donate all the pads we want, but if we are not moved to push for sustainable and consistent provision, then there will always be a gap and period poverty will never be a thing of the past.

We still need to link menstrual health management to the right to health for women and girls all over the world.

Folu Storms, media personality based in Lagos
Folu Storms, media personality based in Lagos
Image: HANDOUT

We know that poor menstrual hygiene can lead to reproductive and urinary tract infections which may go undiagnosed and untreated because of stigma and taboos. Menstruation is also a vital indicator of women’s health.

This means that more education and awareness are needed so that women and girls all over the world can understand their bodies and advocate for themselves within the healthcare system.

We still need to talk about access to appropriate sanitation facilities. Poor menstrual hygiene is linked to inadequate water and sanitation facilities.

According to UNICEF, about half of the schools in low-income countries lack adequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene crucial for girls and female teachers to manage their periods. This in turn affects girls' educational outcomes.

And the lack of sanitisation facilities is not only in schools but at home as well.

Globally, only 27 per cent of people have adequate hand-washing facilities at home.

Recently, the Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Society Network (KEWASNET) reported that for women and girls in informal settlements the search for water to manage their periods has led to sextortion at water points.

These are just a few issues that need our attention. If we take into consideration intersectionality, we also need to talk about period poverty for women and girls with disabilities and others in precarious situations such as refugees.

We can’t be discouraged by those who say that we have talked about this issue enough.

When so many have worked and continue to work towards lifting the veil of silence caused by period stigma, shall we now relegate it back to the shadows when so many are still suffering from the indignity of period poverty?

Perhaps the truth we all need to sit with is that we will never stop talking about periods. It is a feature of daily life, and in that realm, it shall stay.

Talk about menstruation every day, talk about it in schools, talk about it in government institutions, talk about it in policymaking sessions, talk about it on social media, talk about it with your sons and daughters, and talk about it with your friends.

Commit to action. We are committed to ending the stigma, are you?

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