By Alexa Doiron
Menstrual cycles play a huge role in the equality of women around the world. In countries such as the United States, women live in a more accepting environment of their natural cycles. However, in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, women are living constant shame of their menstrual cycles and this prevents them from seeking out the education needed for proper menstrual hygiene.
The shame associated with periods causes strife for many women in these countries where it is not culturally accepted. For example, in Uganda if the menstrual cloth is seen by others the woman is considered cursed. Even in the Islam religion, if a woman is on her period she is forced to halt all forms of worship because she is considered impure during this time. Not only in Islam, but the Christian Old Testament makes it clear that a woman is to be considered unclean during her monthly period. There is a multitude of examples of this type of culture where women are forced to hide a natural process in their body.
There is such a stigma around periods that girls will even intentionally skip school during it because of their shame. It is estimated that around 50% of girls miss around four days of school each month in Ethiopia due to their periods, which eventually leads to higher dropout rates among women. The taboos around this create a poor environment for women to grow and the fear created in this topic prevents people from discussing possible solutions to the problem.
The issue is that there is not enough clean water, there is a lack of proper sex education, and there are not enough locations for the disposal of menstrual hygiene products. This means that these women are forced to resort to unhygienic means for controlling their blood flow. Women have even been known to use dirty rags, fabric, or even dried dung in an attempt to manage their period. Without the proper education of how to take care of themselves, these women are unintentionally giving themselves infections.
That is why companies such as the Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE) invests in employing women in these countries to create and distribute hygienic menstrual pads that are created out of raw and safe materials such as banana fibers. It is companies like these that are helping to create a new and empowering environment for women in societies where they are the lesser citizens.
Despite the problem seeming so far away, women in the United States are encouraged to get involved in helping this cause. Even here, we still have shame associated with periods and not all women can even afford the materials that are needed to keep their cycles hygienic. Most schools barely skim over the topic of menstrual health with their students, which cause young women to grow up in confusion of their own bodies.
Menstrual education health is an issue for women around the world and in order to find solutions, we must look seek out the information to help those without access to clean and safe forms of menstrual management. Not only for health, but also to promote the gender equality, which has lacked in cultures for centuries.
For more information you can look at the SHE webpage, which explains their mission and how you can help these women.