If you didn’t already know, today marks the 4th year of celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day!
First initiated by WASH United in 2013, their vision for Menstrual Hygiene Day is “to create a world in which every woman and girl can manage her menstruation in a hygienic way – wherever she is – in privacy, safety, and with dignity”.
The reason why we have Menstrual Hygiene Day is that there is still a huge lack of awareness on menstruation. Taboos and stigmas surrounding menstruation still exist in many parts of the world, affecting the lives of girls socially, emotionally, and even economically.
Therefore, we’ve decided to feature 3 marvellous women who’ve stepped up and challenged these taboos.
“I didn’t follow my parents advice and used to do the opposite”
An advocate for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and only 12 years old, Mounika is among the growing number of brave young girls in the MHM Core Girls Group which pushes back against taboos of having periods in India. As a member of this group, she is taught best practices and in turn, passes on the valuable knowledge she has learnt to others at home.
Her fight against the taboos of menstruation started early in her life, as she grew up in a society plagued with stigmas.
One example would be when her mother forbade her from eating spicy food when she was on her period. Unfazed, Mounika would continue eating spicy food, much to the dismay of her mother. However, as a result of her defiance of such taboos, her mother is now starting to understand that such taboos are unfounded.
Dissatisfied with keeping the truth about taboos to her own family, Mounika has been convincing her friends in her village to defy taboos against menstruation. In an interview, she recounts that she had a friend whose parents would forbid their daughter from watering plants while on her period as they believed that the tree would not be suitable to be offered to God and that the flowers and plants would die as a result of her impurity.
However, Mounika convinced her friend to do otherwise since there was no evidence supporting that belief; as a result her friend has been able to change her parents’ mindset on menstruation.
Now, Mounika reaches out to other girls by taking time to hand out booklets on MHM to them, and by making sure that they understand what it means.
“Stop those things that make you ask me for 700 francs every month!”
As the managing director of Cosmos Media Centre, Blandine Umuziranenge aims to spare the girls of Rhwanda from the stigma & shame that she had faced as a young teen growing up with neither support nor knowledge on how to handle her periods.
In the two years after her first period, Blandine did not dare to ask for sanitary pads by name, and would refer to them as hygiene products, school materials, or anything that would sound more appealing to her parents.
Since she did not know about sanitary pads, she cut her clothes into pieces and developed a system of changing and washing the pieces to stop the bleeding; this led to the embarrassing situation of having to hang her tattered clothes out to dry after washing them. Even after learning about how to use sanitary pads from her friend, Blandine still faced an uphill battle due to the costs of these pads as her father grew increasingly reluctant to pay for them every month and told her,”Stop those things that make you ask me for 700 francs every month!”
Feeling betrayed that her own father would not support her, Blandine started having to incur debts from her friends & her neighbour who would let her have the pads on credit. She was already fortunate as compared to her fellow classmates who had to miss classes because they did not have or were working to get the money for hygiene products.
Therefore, motivated by her own experiences, Bladine has made Cosmos into a media house, magazine, and healthcare app to provide girls with a platform to read Cosmos’ magazines & books on hygiene products. It also allows the girls to share their problems and enable them to discuss what can be done to end the shame and stigma which exist with having periods.
“Every issue pertaining to sexuality is taboo in Madagascar”
Being the founder of Youth First (Madagascar), Tina Razafinimanana’s organisation provided funding and technical support to women under the Healthy Girl Program. This includes a 25-year-old lady named Iriana Adrianalimanana, who designed low-cost, sustainable cotton sanitary pads that can be washed and re-used for up to 3 years. Iriana is also now teaching girls in rural schools there, the skills to produce the hygienic and ecological pads by themselves!
Tina says that the Healthy Girl Program also aims to help girls understand why menstruation happens, how they can manage it, and how they can keep track of it. She says, “Every issue pertaining to sexuality is taboo in Madagascar and often girls and young women don’t get the needed support when transitioning from childhood to the next stage of their lives.”
She also mentions that with all the changes that go on in a girls’ body during menstruation, many girls face their periods with fear, and will even miss school for fear of embarrassment.
Through their Young Women Leadership Program, Tina hopes that in the long term, they’ll be able to train even more girls to develop and implement national policies to address their unmet needs, such as convincing the Ministry of Education to include menstrual hygiene as part of the country’s school curriculum.
In the spirit of today, why not take a step up to make a change by doing something as simple as spreading some awareness on your social media platforms? WASH United has many free resources available for public use on their Menstrual Hygiene Day website that you can find right here!
Remember, the more we talk about something, the less taboo/awkward it would be; so, stop hiding, and start sharing!
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