Menstrual hygiene as the foundation to ensuring gender equality.
Menstrual hygiene is part of women’s existence for most of their lives. For some, it is synonymous with "ordinary" femininity, for many others it is a source of common disparities and inequity. On the occasion of world Menstrual Hygiene Day last May 28th, it is pressing to ponder on the meaning of this term.
For most women in the so-called "developed" countries, the menstrual cycle is simply a regular monthly appointment with the pharmacy or the supermarket to get sanitary towels, tampons or menstrual cups. These objects are part of everyday life, they are not luxury goods.
Yet, many women in the world, for various reasons, are denied access to these supplies. This limited access is the source of a series of outcomes that control the lives and choices of millions of women.
In Malawi, for example, the price of a pack of sanitary napkins can cost more than a woman's daily pay. If we consider that the majority of women would need two packs per menstrual cycle, this means spending the pay of two workdays per month on sanitary napkins. Still, in Kenya, a package of eight pads costs about $ 1, when half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Obviously, very many women are forced to make a choice with which no woman or young woman should be confronted: choose whether to eat or take care of their menstrual hygiene.
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
ActionAid is convinced that if you want to be part of the change, it is important to become aware of this type of discrimination and its ensuant repercussions. The risk of getting dirty and running into "embarrassing" situations leads women and girls to give up workdays and skip school during the days of the cycle, negatively impacting their careers or their academic performance. This is not the only negative repercussion. In the long run, this phenomenon can lead students to abandon their studies, to pregnancies at a very young age, to the child bride’s phenomenon and to a greater risk of being subject to sexual violence. Inevitably, because of these events, becoming economically independent becomes harder and harder for young women.
Besides, women and girls are forced to resort to torn old clothes and rags to put together intimate hygiene supplies that are awkward, useless and contrary to basic hygiene standards.
This major issue is not given enough consideration. This is also because women have an unquestionably lower economic, social and political power than men. This leads to less awareness of the issue, which, if not experienced in the first person, is bumped to the background.
FROM CHALLENGE TO OPPORTUNITY
Lastly, fighting for menstrual hygiene does not only mean preventing women from experiencing leaks, spotting and embarrassments (although this is also important), but is above all a fundamental concept that will bring forth true gender equality.
ActionAid carries out strong awareness initiatives in countries where this phenomenon is more prevalent. The goal is to raise awareness in the entire community on the issue of women's rights, as the key to sustainable and lasting development. To reverse the trend, ActionAid designed and implemented "safe rooms", spaces dedicated exclusively to girls on school premises, equipped with bathrooms and useful supplies to ensure menstrual hygiene for every young woman.
To learn more about how the cycle affects the lives of millions of women, see the "Cycle of Progress,” winner of the 2019 Oscar for best documentary short film. The short documentary shows at the same time the difficulties to which women go through during the menstrual cycle and the rescue story of a group of young women who have turned a difficult situation into an engine of personal and economic growth.