Initiated by WASH United, the first global Menstrual Hygiene Day will be celebrated on May 28th around the world with exhibitions, film screenings, workshops and gatherings, all aimed at breaking the silence around menstruation.
In addition to persisting taboos, women and girls’ capacity to manage their periods is affected by a number of other factors, including limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options leaving many to manage their periods as ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic.
These problems are further exacerbated by insufficient access to safe and private toilets and lack of clean water and soap for personal hygiene. As a result, menstruating girls and women often feel ashamed and embarrassed.
Since June 2013 the Bodhgaya clinic has been introducing a ‘Sanitary Hygiene Programme’ introducing women to the idea of using proper sanitary napkins. The clinic buys packets of sanitary napkins at a subsidised government price of six rupees per packet which contains six sanitary napkins. These are then offered to the women for five rupees. The Shining Hope Foundation subsidises each packet by one rupee.
Rousan Ara, one of the Community Health Worker in Bodhgaya, admits that the lack of education and the upbringing for many local women can be a difficult challenge to overcome. She told me: “Considering how most of them have been brought up in difficult conditions that are alien to many in the western world, it is often difficult for them to understand and accept the benefits of these sanitary hygiene products that we are offering, to make their lives easier.”
For many of the women who have previously used old rags and bits of cloth, from old clothes with buttons and hooks, this is life changing. Not only is it much more hygienic it is less likely to cause terrible infections which were quite common with the use of old rags, somewomen were even reported to be susing old ashes from the fire, again a very dangerous practice leading to infections.
On Shining Hope Foundation’s recent visit to India, staff in the Bodhgaya Clinic told me of several ways they spread the word. Firstly, women who have been to the clinic for a general check-up are told about the availability of sanitary products. Secondly, the Community Health Worker holds meetings and health talks with women and girls in the villages. And thirdly, a village motivator spreads the word in the villages that these sanitary products are available. To date, the feedback from the local women who have used the products has been very positive.
Menstrual Hygiene Day was created to publicly recognize the right of women to hygienically manage their menstruation wherever they are. By acknowledging that menstruation is a normal human process and a sign of good health, Menstrual Hygiene Day confronts the stigmas attached to menstruation with collective advocacy, education and action.
Visit http://menstrualhygieneday.org/ to learn more.
Vanessa Challinor is Communications Associate at the Shining Hope Foundation.
She has recently joined the team and will manage the charity’s relationships with its current partners abroad. She has travelled extensively in Asia and lived in Hong Kong and later in Vietnam where she worked on various humanitarian projects.