Menstrual Hygiene Day was first started in 2013 to bring together NGOs, governments, the private sector, media and individuals to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). The day aims to raise awareness of the challenges women and girls face worldwide because of their periods, as well as the solutions that address those challenges.
All over the world, girls are forced to miss days of school because they don’t have access to sanitary products or to private bathrooms where they can comfortably manage their periods. Not having the means to manage their periods properly can affect their health.
Stigma and taboo around periods makes these situations even more uncomfortable for girls. A girl who is shamed for being on her period will refuse to leave her house during that time of the month. Women and girls miss out on education, work and other opportunities when they don’t have the resources to manage their periods with dignity.
According to Femme International, menstruation is one of the biggest reasons why adolescent girls miss school in East Africa. Poor menstrual hygiene management is also the leading cause of reproductive tract infections in women globally.
In Kenya, girls will miss an average of 4 days of school each month, about 20% of the school year, because they don’t have access to sanitary products. In areas of Venezuela and Nepal, women and girls on their periods are forced to stay in a hut in isolation until their period is over. Although the government of Nepal made this practice illegal last year, it continues to happen and take victims who either freeze in isolation or are bitten by animals who enter the hut.
Women and girls in emergency situations, such as refugees or those living in areas affected by conflict or natural disasters, can struggle to find the resources they need to manage their periods. Over 26 million displaced girls and women are estimated to be menstruating around the globe. Unfortunately, their ability to privately, safely and comfortably manage their menstruation tends to be an overlooked issue in crisis situations.
To address this particular issue, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the International Rescue Committee, supported by Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises, created the MHM in Emergencies Project. This partnership has produced a series of toolkits on addressing menstrual hygiene management in emergencies so that displaced women and girls can feel safer and more comfortable.
Around Menstrual Hygiene Day, many organizations and individuals are taking action, raising awareness and supporting campaigns and projects. Here are three examples I love:
Meghan & Harry’s Wedding and the Myna Mahila Foundation
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry chose seven charities for people to donate money to in honor of their wedding. One was the Myna Mahila Foundation, an organization that works towards combating period stigma and empowering women in Mumbai. They educate women and girls on menstrual hygiene management while providing them with low-cost sanitary products. They also employ women from Mumbai’s slums to manufacture and sell those products in their communities, providing women and girls with stable employment, a reliable network, and better health. They currently reach over 10,000 women a month, and by the end of 2018 they aim to increase that to 5,000 women per month.
Diana Sierra is the co-founder and CEO at Be Girl Inc, a social enterprise focused on making menstrual protection accessible to all women and girls, supporting their autonomy to pursue the opportunities that can radically improve their quality of life. Diana built her career in industrial design as a consultant, working for almost 10 years for different multinational companies and consultancy firms such as on Smart Design, Frog Design, Nike, Panasonic, Energizer and Tommy Hilfiger.
So far, Be Girl has reached 25 countries and a total of 33,000 Be Girl panties and flexipads have been distributed globally. Be Girl has covered 790,680 periods and reached 2,200 girls and boys with ‘SmartCycle’ education and sexual reproductive health workshops in their ‘Building Cycles of Empathy’ program.
Davinia James and the Hope and Dreams Initiative
The Hope and Dreams Initiative aims to change the reading culture of underserved communities in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. This organization teaches girls about hygiene, including menstrual hygiene, as well as providing free sanitary products and education on how to use them.
This year, Davinia James, founder of the Pennies4Girls Project, has partnered with the Hope and Dreams Initiative to help girls in Nigeria who are deprived of an education because of their periods. They are currently raising funds to build WASH libraries and provide access to sanitary products. Their programs will provide girls with the necessary menstrual products to enable them to attend school even during their periods.
If this is an issue you’re passionate about, I encourage you to join this global movement and take action. All of us deserve the ability to manage our periods with dignity and none of us should be deprived of opportunities because of menstruation. As Davinia would say, if this is a cause you care about, don’t ask for permission to do something about it, just do it!