The 28th May marks a day in the calendars of those who have uteruses whose linings are shed from time to time, to collectively reflect on menstrual health hygiene.
To offer context, this day is recognised globally, for advocacy purposes. The intention is to counter taboos on myths ,in an effort to combat period stigma and menstrual shame. It’s also a day to advocate for menstrual hygiene and raise awareness on menstrual hygiene management. The accepted definition for menstrual hygiene management is, “women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual hygiene management materials.”
The process of menstruation, as may be known by some, creates a need for the availability of material resources to collect the blood, ensure the hygiene and do away with the waste with as much privacy as possible. The reason for the emphasis on menstrual hygiene management, is because people who menstruate, who live in low income settings may not have the necessary access to, or awareness of hygienic practices, and likely lack the appropriate material for the absorption of the blood.
Menstrual hygiene products vary depending on the region one is in. Menstrual hygiene products simply refers to the products used for the management of menstrual hygiene.
They include the cup, which has been said to be the healthies. Pads or sanitary napkins and panty liners – there are some which are disposable, and there are those which are made of cloth and can be re-used.
There are also tampons, which is inserted into the vagina to absorb blood.
It is important to name these products, address their function and speak candidly about menstrual hygiene because it forms part of the areas of life which have been yielded and used to cause shame on those who experience menstruation.
It is important to discuss menstruation because it is a normal function of the human body for many people, with over 300 million people menstruating, in the world. When the ovary is not fertilised, the uterus lining sheds.
It is nothing to be ashamed about. It is, I would in fact argue, something to celebrate. It is also an experience that ca be most excruciating for many other people, because of their bodies.
There is a great deal of silence associated with menstruation, and activities around menstruation. In many regards, this silence is accompanied by shame and taboos, which manifest in social practices which interfere with mobility, and freedom. Adolescents are the most affected by this, particularly because of their position in society, and the ways I which they are related with. Adolescents are often the least prepared from menstruation, and the most affected by the shame, and taboo around the topic. This is telling of the adults our society raises, and has an impact I the ways in which we relate with menstruation even Iater on in life.
Managing menstruation for adolescents can often be an even greater challenge during a disaster, with limited access. When there is a pandemic or any type of emergency, our lifestyles are affected and we are confronted with ewer challenges, and added stress.
There is a greater focus on ensuring that there is shelter, food and other more primary necessities. Things like menstrual hygiene and the privacy that should come with such a period are often secondary considerations, if they even appear on our radar of things to be prioritised.
There has been little said or addressed on menstrual hygiene, since the pandemic was declared and state of emergency and the interventions thereto have been implemented. UNICEF recognises that poverty makes it more challenging to access menstrual hygiene supplies and care.
Many people are forced to prioritise food over menstrual hygiene needs. There is a heightened need for sexual and reproductive health services, and there is less access to information, because health services and education has been dismally disrupted.
It is critical that in re-imagining our new world, and the new ways of communicating and living, that one of the priorities be menstrual hygiene and information on menstruation, wo those of us least privileged. Menstrual hygiene management is as essential as healthcare as it has such a far reaching impact on such a large component of our population. UNICEF has suggested that the ways of response have to be concerted.
There is need, especially in this time, to dispel myths about menstruation and menstrual health.
There is a dire need for accurate information on menstrual health, for the benefit of all those who menstruate, and those allied to them.
Menstruation is not a sign of illness. And although many experience a need for extra care during this time, it is critical to note that it is not a weakness on their part, it is merely a part of the body carrying out its function. #HappyPerioding
*It should be noted that not everybody who has a period or who experiences menstruation is a woman. This column endeavours to be inclusive in all its work. As a result, this piece is not limited only to women who bleed. It is in recognition that menstruation does not determine a person’s gender.