Break the Barriers: Menstruation in the UK

In March 2018, Plan International launched its Break the Barriers: Menstrual Manifesto report. With interviews from over 80 menstruators, the report shines a spotlight on issues facing people who menstruate in the UK today. To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day 2018, I’d like to look at some of the report’s key findings, so that on this important day we may all make a commitment to reducing the stigma attached to menstruation.

The internet offers good and bad education

Whilst the internet is often a space where derogatory comments lurk on social media pages, or where the negative stereotypes of menstruation are reinforced through sexist memes, it also offers a space for menstruators and non-menstruators alike to educate themselves on the biology and politics surrounding periods. YouTube stars such as Hannah Witton and Byrony Farmer offer informative videos that move away from the traditionally uncomfortable style of menstruation education.

Period myths still prevail

Age-old myths surrounding periods such as, “during your period you can’t go swimming”, or “using a tampon means you’re no longer a virgin” still hold strong today. Through lack of education, menstruators are consuming negative reactions to periods and understanding menstruation as something unpleasant and unnatural. These negative notions then leave menstruators feeling weaker and more irrational than their counterparts, perpetuating sexist stereotypes.

Gender-neutrality needs to be addressed

Not all those who identify as female menstruate, and people who identify as genders other than female also menstruate. This understanding that not all females menstruate is important in the education of menstruators globally. Currently, the transgender/non-binary experience of menstruation means that some young people are being excluded from necessary menstrual education within school settings.

The education system is failing young people

Schools are contributing to the cultural taboos of menstruation and failing to provide high-quality education. Menstruators are having to ask their teachers – in front of their classmates – when they need to use bathrooms. They are being refused access to toilets, and when they do have access, facilities necessary for menstrual health are missing. Many menstruators worry about leaking at school and the humiliation they will face. There is a lack of understanding within the education system and this is further entrenching a culture of embarrassment.

Period poverty is a reality

The level of period poverty in the UK is unacceptably high and found across many regions. But an important distinction Plan UK makes is that period poverty is understood to be relative poverty. Poverty is not just the condition of being without money or food, but also expands to feelings of exclusion and powerlessness. Due to women’s roles in family life it is often female family members who absorb the shock of poverty. For this reason, many young girls go without period products in order to reduce financial burden.

If there is one thing to take away from Plan’s report it’s the need for each of us to commit to listening to menstruators’ experiences. Doing so will open up conversation, which will in turn challenge the current taboos and stigmas. And, talking about menstruation ensures that it remains high on the agenda; forcing governments, corporations and educational institutions to focus on menstrual equality. We can all make a difference today by committing to talking about menstruation until equality is achieved.

Read more, and download the full report at: https://plan-uk.org/act-for-girls/girls-rights-in-the-uk/break-the-barriers-our-menstrual-manifesto

I Demand Justice

Recently, I was walking in my neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria, with my sister and my father. As we walked, I explained to them my fears of walking through the streets when it was so dark. My sister confidently replied, “We will be safe if anything happens because we have a man to protect us.”

This should not be the case. Men should not have to protect women from violence.

In many communities, women and girls need protection because violence against them is so prevalent. According to the World Health Organisation, 35% of women and girls around the world will experience intimate partner or non-partner violence in their lifetime. Every two minutes, a woman is sexually assaulted in the United States. That equates to 30 women every hour, and 7,200 women every day. In a recent post by blogger Diane, I learnt that some girls in India are born into brothels and are “bred” for a life of abuse, exploitation and violence.

Violence against women and girls must stop.

When I hear stories of girls who experience violence and stigmatization, I am infuriated. In October 2013, a Nigerian girl was gang raped by three unidentified men. This young girl committed suicide because of stigmatization and shame. She was ostracized in her community because she was raped. She did not deserve to experience such pain and trauma. At this moment, 223 school girls are still missing in Nigeria after being kidnapped.

It is for girls in Nigeria and around the world that I demand justice.

I demand justice because:

  • No girl should be raped, sexually abused or exploited
  • No girl should be cut
  • No girl should be trafficked
  • No girl should feel her only option is to commit suicide because of shame and stigmatization.

I demand justice because all human beings were born equal with the same inalienable human rights.

A young girl once told me “to be a woman is to feel pain.” I want this to change. Imagine a world without violence against women and girls. We would be free to walk on the streets without fear. Girls would not experience the pain and trauma of rape, FGM, abuse or neglect.

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities. Violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

I demand justice for the millions of girls who experience violence everyday. Do you?

Share your ideas below or tweet us @GirlsGlobe

Cover Photo Credit: Stefano Peppucci, Flickr Creative Commons

“A girl should be seen, not heard…”

I grew up hearing this statement.

When I asked my mother why I could not express myself, she would say, “In our culture, girls have to be ladylike.” I hated this word and the ‘ladylike’ behavior that I had to possess one hundred percent of the time. As I grew older, I learned that this statement reinforced the gender stereotypes that existed in our society. It is these stereotypes that are prevalent in many societies and lead to gender discrimination.

Gender discrimination means girls and women are denied their inalienable human rights, are abused, violated and ignored. Globally, it is estimated that 66 million girls are currently out of school. It is widely believed that a woman’s place is in the home. Many fathers believe it is pointless to send their daughters to school. Even if a girl wants to continue her education, societal norms and traditions she has grown up with, pressure her to stay home. However, this is changing and more girls are fighting to stay in school.

Photo Credit: DFID UK, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo Credit: DFID UK, Flickr Creative Commons

Gender discrimination means that 14 million girls are coaxed, coerced or forced into marriage before their 18th birthday. One in three girls in the developing world is married before she is 18. One in seven marries before reaching the age of 15, some as young as five. The implications of Early and Forced marriage (EFM) are horrendous. We are familiar with the Yemeni child bride who died on her wedding night due to internal bleeding. Her husband was a man five times her age – old enough to be her father.

Other effects of EFM include:

Domestic violence: Women who marry younger are more likely to be beaten. Their husbands view them as property because, in many cases, they paid a bride price for them.

Poor sexual and reproductive health: Child brides are more likely to contract HIV because it is likely that their husband have had more sexual partners.

Illiteracy and lack of education: Girls often drop out of school in preparation for marriage, and it is unlikely that their husbands will send them to school as childbearing and rearing are seen as the next step.

Total lack of independence, freedom and rights

Due to the belief that a girl should be silent, most girls do not have a choice in decisions which affect them. These decisions are life-changing and even though she may be against these decisions, she will not dispute them.

What if we lived in a world where girls are seen and heard?

Imagine a world where girls have the ability to make choices and to speak up about issues that affect them. We could see more girls fighting to stay in school! Girls in their local communities would have freedom to speak more about issues such as Early and Forced Marriage, educating those in their societies about the dangers and pushing for change. Girls can break gender stereotypes that exist in their communities and become stronger, more independent women who are ready to move themselves from a life of poverty into a life of opportunity.

The key to breaking gender stereotypes and reducing gender discrimination is by educating girls. When girls are educated, they are more confident to express their views. They believe in themselves and most importantly, they dream big and are determined to conquer the world.

Raise your hand for girls’ education.

Sponsor a child.

Tell a girl her voice matters.

Cover Photo Credit: Vic Xia, Flickr Creative Commons