My monthly cycle, menses, Aunt Flo, my period. The words that many of us whispered about as young girls brought giggles, tears, anxiety and a lot of questions. Now think back … what would it have been like if there were no sanitary means of any kind available to you. What if there were no toilets, no toilet paper, no pads, no tampons, no water? Can you imagine the emotional and mental discomfort counting the days until ‘that time’ came around again? Consider this: Globally, 100 million girls currently enrolled in school may drop out -- because of their period.
The natural process of menstruation comes as a big problem to women and girls in many parts of the world. In order to stem the flow of monthly periods, the women and girls use anything from rags, tree leaves, old clothes, toilet paper, newspapers, cotton wool, cloths or literally anything that can do the job. Most girls from poor, rural communities do not use anything at all.
Girls who lack sanitary pads often use crude and unhygienic methods, such as inserting cotton wool to block the flow, which can migrate to their uterus. In urban slums, girls are known to collect used pads from garbage dumps, and wash them for their own use. These measures often result in serious health complications. It is common to tear blue jeans and use that fabric as a sanitary pad, but the resulting chaffing often causes extremely painful and embarrassing boils to develop.
To combat these problems, they resort to another “solution” that bears serious consequences: prostitution. Yes. You need to read that again. Some of the girls engage in prostitution/paid sex, so that they can raise the money required to buy sanitary pads, putting themselves at the risk of HIV and infection.
To state it bluntly, menstruation has become like a curse not only to the women and girls but also to society in general. Because menstruation is largely a private process, the social damage is hidden and never makes the news headlines. Also, there are cultural and social attitudes that render discussion of menstruation almost impossible.
Hygiene products are either unavailable or unaffordable to most marginalized females. Young girls are forced to skip school during the time they experience monthly periods to avoid both the cost of pads or use of cloths. UNICEF estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of sanitation.
A girl absent from school due to menstruation for 4 days in 28 days (a month) loses 13 learning days, equivalent to 2 weeks of learning in every school term. It is estimated that within the 4 years of high school the same girl loses 156 learning days, equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in high school.
No woman should be cursed to disempowerment by the natural process of monthly periods. The bottom line is that the natural process of menstruation should disadvantage no girl.