By Ndeye Fatou Drame
On May 28th, FOHSEN highlighted Menstrual Hygiene Day, by hosting a conversation with Candice Chirwa, a South Africa-based menstruation activist about the taboos surrounding menstrual health and to shed light on the efforts being taken to improve the experience of menstruators around the world.
Menstruation, commonly known as “period”, is a woman’s monthly bleeding that begins from puberty and lasts until menopause. In the process of menstruation, the body discards the monthly buildup of the lining of the uterus (womb). Menstrual blood and tissue flow from the uterus through the small opening in the cervix and pass out of the body through the vagina. Menstrual cycles last approximately 28 days within which women menstruate for 5 days on average.
There are a lot of taboos and misconceptions about menstruation that have been pushed by mainstream media. The most common include that while menstruating, women are impure or even sinful, which can lead to the shaming and isolation of women and girls.
Along with the stigmatization of menstruation, is the issue known as period poverty. Globally, 1.8 billion people menstruate monthly, yet there are over 500 millions of menstruating people who lack access to necessary period products. Period poverty also includes the lack of access to clean restrooms, discrete ways to dispose period products, health education on puberty in schools, and shaming from the community. This is just a surface level view on the topic as this a complex, multi-dimensional struggle that accounts for oftentimes forgetn special population including: women in prison, persons with disabilities, refugees, homeless persons, memebrs of the LGBTQ community, and many others.
Fortunately there are a number of ways to combate period poverty. From an individual level, we all can work to destigmatize menstruation by adopting a few ideass that include: 1) Actively discussing the topic with facts rather than rumors; 2) Incorporating inclusivity in these conversations; 3) Asking questions on the sources of information others my reference to clarify; and 4) Respect the beliefs and cultures of others. From a systemic level, organizations and leaders should focus on clear,inclusive, and context specific policies on menstural health as well as sexual and repoductive eductaion. Additionally, governments that are unable to to implement menstrual health improvements should partners with other organizations such as NGOs that have the capacity & resources.
For more information on this topic including activists and organizations that are addressing period poverty within Africa specifically, please see the links below: