World Menstrual Hygiene Day is a day set aside to promote good menstrual hygiene and health for women. It focuses on breaking the silence, educating people on what menstruation is, and asking politicians, key decision-makers and well-meaning organizations need to take action about menstrual hygiene.
For centuries, there has been a lack of education and so many persisting taboos surrounding menstruation. People feel like menstruation is something shameful, something we should not talk about. I remember one time a girl wanted to talk about menstruation and an older woman shushed her loudly.
“Don’t you talk about that in public,” she said.
Another one said, “When men are around, they shouldn’t hear you use that word.”
Although they never said it out loud, their body language and facial expressions told us all we needed to know. Slowly, they made menstruation seem like something shameful. A crime the girl child and all of womanhood have committed. Consequently, many young girls grew up feeling like they needed to hide the fact that they menstruated. I once heard some girls say that they couldn’t tell their mother when they saw their first period. They had been made to feel like they had committed an offence.
In some cultures, when girls menstruate, they are seen as unclean. I have heard some people say things like, a woman on her period cannot perform this function. Or a woman on her period cannot serve food on this occasion. They say it like women on their period had some sort of communicable disease. Like she could infect them with the “evil” called menstruation. This is appalling because menstruation is natural!
Menstruation is not evil. It is not something we should be afraid or ashamed of. It is important to us because it is part of the fertility cycle. When a woman can’t menstruate, she won’t be able to have children. Isn’t children something many people wish for? We love children, especially in this part of the world! People are always asking: when will you have kids? They also often admire kids that are as beautiful as their parents. If menstruation is a part of the cycle that produces children that bring joy and make us all so happy, shouldn’t this show us that menstruation is not a taboo or a disease?
Unfortunately, many people don’t see it that way — even among educated people. Menstruation is still talked about in hushed tones. It is still seen as something that we shouldn’t talk about. This attitude that makes us hide menstruation encourages unhealthy menstrual hygiene. This happens because making it seem that way makes it difficult for young girls to open up when they start seeing their period. Many young girls don’t speak up when they experience these changes in their bodies. Some of them resort to using unhygienic products and end up hurting themselves or getting infected as a result.
In many rural areas, access to hygienic menstrual products is limited in addition. There is also a lack of quality education. We hear about young girls who use cloths and tissue paper during their period. Or some who sit in water until their period is over. These unhealthy practices cause all sorts of problems and expose them to infections. In places where there is quality education, on the other hand, the costs of hygienic menstrual products are so unbearable that even the average salary earner cannot afford them — because you have to keep buying them monthly. Sadly, the costs of these products are going up every day. This is something we need to take action about because it affects the health of girls and women everywhere and keeps them from reaching their full potential.
Today, I am lending my voice to this cause and I am saying that menstruation is not a curse. It’s not a taboo. It’s not a disease. It’s not communicable. I’m advocating for people to normalize menstruation and for individuals and key decision-makers to take action and invest heavily in menstrual hygiene and health. Menstruation is not a choice. And it affects more than half of the entire population and so it is an issue of global concern. We need to ensure that every woman can access menstrual hygienic products of their choice, have access to sanitation and hygiene facilities, and is educated about menstruation.
A world where girls and women are empowered to manage their menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence, and without shame is possible. It begins with you. Take action today.