Periods. The curse. That time of the month. Aunt Flo. Shark Week. I could go on and on with euphemisms for menstruation. In fact Health App Clue did a survey which found that there are “over 5,000 different slang/euphemistic expressions and phrases for periods”.
There are probably numerous reasons we struggle with the word “menstruation”. Despite being a reality for 50% of the world’s population and a normal biological process, attitudes towards menstruation still - depending on how you’ve been brought up - vary from just not talking about it in “polite company” right through to seeing it as something shameful and dirty.
As a teenager, in my family “not talking about it in polite company” meant male company. It was ok to mention your period in the company of other women, but heaven forbid you mentioned it in front of your dad, brother or boyfriend. Queue instant awkwardness. And the difficulty around broaching the subject doesn’t seem to end with your teen years; we tackled asking your male boss for sanitary disposal units in our one of our earlier blogs; That awkward question; How to tell your male boss you need FHU’s. I’m happy to report that the blog was well received and helped at least one of our subscribers bridge that awkward communication gap.
In some cultures it’s more than just an awkward topic of conversation; menstruation is surrounded by stigma and misinformation. In an article by ABC News, Jane Ussher, professor of Women's Health Psychology at Western Sydney University, said. "Periods [have long] been associated with dirt, and disgust, and shame, and some might say fear. Even today, in some communities, women are banished to sheds during their period because of so-called 'impurity' during menstruation, despite the ancient practice being outlawed.”
WASH United and the UN are trying to change that by designating the 28th May as Menstrual Hygiene Day. Initiated in 2014 by WASH United and celebrated annually in an attempt to break taboos about menstruation and raise awareness about the importance of good menstrual hygiene management worldwide, the day is gaining traction in a number of countries. In 2017 more than 350 events were organised in 54 countries.
Here in South Africa there are approximately 9 million girls between the ages of 13 and 19 (the school going age of menstruating girls) and a UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. For SA, that could equate to around 900 000 girls missing up to 20% of a given school year. This - without doubt - causes them to miss out on economic opportunities in later life.
According to Wash United, one additional year in school can increase a woman’s lifetime earnings by 10 - 20%. When girls complete secondary school they marry later and have fewer children, and enjoy better maternal health. Promoting good menstrual hygiene management through events like Menstrual Hygiene Day is therefore critical to keeping girls in school, and thus enabling them to reach their full economic and social potential.
At Initial Hygiene, our colleagues very quickly learn that menstruation - and in particular the management of feminine hygiene waste - is a topic too important to feel any awkwardness in discussing. If you want to be really serious about providing excellent hygiene services, the management of feminine hygiene products is a critical component in the ongoing fight against cross contamination.
Initial is committed to raising awareness around menstruation, and the plight facing many young girls in South Africa. From the 1st July, Initial will be running a campaign called Hygiene Angels: keeping girls in school, in which for every Feminine Hygiene Unit we sell on contract, we'll donate one pack of sanitary towels per month to a school with learners in need. The campaign will kick off on Mandela Day, when colleagues across the country will visit schools in their communities to deliver an educational talk on Menstrual Hygiene and donate sanitary pads for the schools’ learners. We’ll be posting more about this campaign in weeks to come, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates.
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