I had my first period when I was eleven years old. I was at school. The secretary allowed me to call my mother, who came and picked me up, took me home to change clothes, and took me back to school. Since that day, I have occasionally missed class because I wasn’t feeling well during my period, but by and large, I am able get up and do what has to be done, regardless of the time of month.
This is not the case in much of the world.
In low-resource countries, onset of menstruation is associated with a number of negative outcomes for girls. They are often unable to attend school during their periods, so drop-out rates for adolescent girls are significantly higher than for adolescent boys. This, in turn, affects their ability to earn income and contribute to the community in the long term. Even if they do continue to attend, they are often distracted and unable to focus, leading them to perform more poorly than their male counterparts. Additionally, these girls are at increased risk for reproductive tract infections.
There are two reasons for these negative outcomes. First, in many countries, menstruation carries a high level of stigma. Women are considered unclean, contaminating, and dangerous during their periods. Traditionally, women in many of these societies were isolated during menstruation. While that practice is changing, the attitudes behind it are slower to die off, leaving women feeling uncertain and insecure about inhabiting public spaces during their periods. Additionally, because there is so much stigma and shame about this topic, girls often do not have correct information about what is happening to their bodies, leading to fear and confusion. Second, girls in low-resource settings are often unable to afford disposable pads or other sanitary means of dealing with their periods. This leads to a number of improvised methods (scraps of cloth, mud, tree bark, toilet paper) that many not be sanitary enough to avoid infection and may not be effective enough to prevent embarrassing stains.
There are a number of incredible groups working to change this in sustainable ways. One group that I have been privileged to work with as a student is Empower Women in Africa. EWA works to works to provide educational and economic opportunities to women in Namibia by providing reusable cloth pads to school-aged girls and by helping local women start businesses to produce these pads for their communities.
In honor of International Women’s Day (which was March 8, so I’m a little late), I would like to invite my readers to partner with me in supporting this incredible organization. There are three ways you can contribute to EWA. 1) You can make a monetary donation. 2) You can host a pad-sewing party. 3) You can give them a signal-boost by telling your friends and family about this issue or posting about their website on social media sites.
Thanks to those of you who are reading! If you’d like more information about this issue and the ways it is being addressed, click on the links below: