By Jennifer Iacovelli
Jennifer is a writer at another jennifer and the creator of simple giving lab. Her passions are writing, philanthropy, her awesome kids and bacon, though not necessarily in that order. Her upcoming book, Simple Giving, will be available on 10/27/15.
The topics of clean water and sanitation often go hand in hand. One without the other does not help us reduce the spread of disease or give back women and girls valuable time so they can work, take care of their families or go to school.
But what about menstruation? How often is a girl’s or woman’s period involved in the discussion of access to clean water and sanitation?
Unfortunately, there is often a stigma associated with a woman’s menstruation cycle. Or, it’s just not something people want to talk about, even here in the United States.
I remember being tapped on the shoulder in high school and hearing a friend whisper in my ear, “There’s blood on the back of your pants.” I knew immediately I had started my period and I was nervous because I was wearing light-colored pants and a white sweater. My friend assured me that I could hide the stain with my sweater. She gave me a sanitary pad, and I was able to make it through the last hour or so of the school day.
While the experience felt embarrassing to me, I was lucky to have a friend who cared enough to discreetly tell me. Even without a pad on me, I had immediate access to one. And I could handle the situation in a nearby bathroom with running toilets, clean water and private stalls.
WaterAid recently shared their tongue-in-cheek ads for “Manpons” for Menstrual Hygiene Day – yes, it’s a day – and imagined what it would be like if men got their periods. I’ll let you watch the “commercials” yourself, but let’s just say there’s bragging about heavy flow and NASA-designed tampons. Much different from current ads for menstrual hygiene for women.
Can you think of a commercial for a tampon or pad that doesn’t talk about hiding your period in a discreet manner?
The fact is that more than 800 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating worldwide on a daily basis. While we are all aware women have periods, we don’t like to discuss it. The topic of menstruation is taboo, and it is far worse in the developing world. Girls miss school, women miss work, and many lack access to any form of sanitary napkins, let alone a safe, discreet place to use them. Some girls and women are banished from their homes during their cycle.
Here are some facts about menstruation in the developing world:
- In India, nearly 70% of girls had no idea what was happening when they first got their period and 88% of menstruating women have no access to sanitary pads.
- About 66% of girls-only schools in India do not have functioning toilets.
- Menstrual taboos and restrictions – including banning menstruating girls and women to sheds outside their homes – are still practiced in dozens of countries across Asia and Africa.
- 23% of Indian girls dropped out of school permanently when they reached puberty.
- Without access to proper menstrual hygiene products, women will resort to going without underwear or using scraps of fabric from a factory floor.
It has been found that investing a dollar in sanitation can save a country up to $8 in avoided costs. Yet, sanitation is only found as a sub-target of a sub-goal in the Millennium Development Goals, a set of global self-improvement objectives to be achieved by 2015. We can do our part by letting world leaders know the importance of clean water, toilets and sanitation for menstruating girls and women, and the countries in which they live, in a global conversation.