Menstrual awareness is growing. Last year, 350 events were organized for MH Day, in 54 different countries. All the MH Day initiatives focus on the challenges menstruating girls and women are facing worldwide. Here, we put the spotlights on two organisations that aim to break down these period barriers in their own way. Not just on Menstrual Hygiene Day, but 365 days a year.
1. Simavi, Rutgers & WomenOnWings: #Beyondshame
The Netherlands. Even in the Netherlands – where Period! Magazine was founded – people don’t always talk openly about their periods. We pretend we’re fine when suffering from cramps, hide our tampons and sanitary napkins when going to the toilet, and quickly cover up any leakage stains. Even though menstruating is the most normal thing in the world. If there’s so much shame in a progressive society like The Netherlands, you can probably imagine how big the challenge for women in developing countries must be.
India. Eating gherkins, leaving your room or washing yourself. Are these things allowed during your period? Think these are odd questions? Not for girls living in India. Shame and lack of knowledge about menstruation has serious consequences for their health and development. Because of superstition, they can’t even decide what they eat during their week of bleeding. That’s why it’s so important to educate girls and women in developing countries about what menstruation is and how they can deal with it in a healthy way.
‘Help breaking the worldwide taboo and go #beyondshame’
With the Making Periods Normal programme, WomenOnWings, Rutgers and Simavi ensure that 660,000 girls and women in the Indian countryside can continue their daily activities during their menstrual week. They do this by improving the awareness and knowledge of the importance of hygiene management. And by improving access to sanitary napkins.
Worldwide. The taboo surrounding menstruation doesn’t only exist in India. It has serious consequences for the lives and development of women around the world. That’s why on the 28th of May, during Menstrual Hygiene Day, Simavi, Rutgers and WomenOnWings will pay extra attention to the situation of these women. Because only by being open about menstruation, we’ll be able to break the worldwide taboo and go #beyondshame.
Want to help them breaking the period barriers? What are you ashamed of? Put on red (the ‘colour of shame’) lipstick, take a selfie or make a video to support women worldwide. Share your story with #beyondshame for a chance of winning the exclusive Emergency Tampon Necklace by designer Katarina Hornwall.
2. World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts: YESS-Girls
Girl scouts? Those lovely girls that sell cookies and enjoy summer camps in the great outdoors? Yes. And no. The new generation of girl scouts aims to make a difference. For example in the field of menstrual health.
Nepal. Imagine you’re banned from your home and unable to prepare food, for a week each month. This is the reality for many girls and women in rural Nepal. Menstrual hygiene worker Nirmala Shrestha gets confronted with these bans and prejudices every day. A Girl Scout from Nepal’s Sindhupalchok District, she helps providing education and sanitary supplies to girls and women in remote communities.
According to Shrestha, mythology around menstruation dictates the way women and girls are treated. ‘When girls are on their periods they face different problems. They’re banned from the kitchen. And they aren’t allowed to touch any fruit or plants.’ This means many girls and women don’t get to eat properly during their period. Sometimes they’re even forced to sleep outside their homes until they’ve finished bleeding.
‘Girls are banned from the kitchen. They also aren’t allowed to touch any fruit or plants’
Bad menstrual hygiene is a real barrier. Not just in Nepal, where many rural villages don’t have proper toilet facilities or sanitary items, but in all parts of the world. A lack of knowledge, facilities and sanitary supplies limits girls’ potential. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), which represents 10 million girls in 150 countries, wants to break down these barriers and reduce the stigma surrounding periods.
WAGGGS is calling on schools, communities and work places to create cultures where there’s no shame around menstruation. The organisation also encourages these places to provide hygienic bathrooms, with clean water and lockable doors. To ensure girls can access their basic right of education, schools should supply menstrual products for students who can’t afford them.
Uganda. For many Ugandan girls, their period arrives as a complete surprise. With a project called YESS-Girls, Girl Guides from the WAGGGS are equipping young women with the skills and supplies to safely manage this time of the month. YESS-Girls teach schoolgirls about menstruation and show them how to make reusable pads with local materials. This sustainable and environmentally friendly option also means the girls don’t have to purchase sanitary items.
In Uganda, the many cultural misconceptions around periods include the belief that blood is bad. And that women shouldn’t cook or venture into trading areas of town while menstruating. Other myths say that if a menstruating girl carries a new-born baby, the infant will get a rash and the umbilical cord won’t dry. Collecting plant cuttings for herbal medicine will cause the plant to die, and fruit trees will get attacked by pests if climbed by a menstruating girl. Also: if a dog finds a girl’s sanitary towel it’s believed the girl will become barren.
Previously in Uganda periods have been called ‘omwezi’, meaning moon, or ‘ensoga’, meaning an issue people don’t want to talk about. The YESS-Girls explain how menstruation is natural and important for having children. So far they’ve instructed 1860 girls, 200 boys and 10 teachers as part of the project. They’re currently working towards extending their reach beyond schools and into the wider community.