Universally, women and girls menstruate. The age may vary for every young girl, but the experience can be traumatic, sometimes even deadly.
I recently came upon two news items that shocked and saddened me. The first story was of an 11-year-old girl from the UK who had her period while in school. When she asked to be excused to go to the bathroom because her period had soaked through her clothes, she was refused by two staff members on two separate occasions.
The young girl was trying to avoid being singled out by the rest of her class, possibly the whole school. Instead of being supported by the staff, she was dismissed, which traumatized her from going back to school. Since those incidents, the girl has been given a bathroom pass, but the damage had been done. According to a study done by Plan International UK back in 2017, 49% of girls and young women aged 14-21 have missed at least one day of school as a result of their period. In addition to being humiliated for having a period and pain as a result of it, the cost of buying sanitary products may be prohibitive. Period poverty in the UK affects about 10% of girls who can’t afford them and 12% find ways to create makeshift sanitary wear just to have something. There have been initiatives launched like the Red Box Project based in Bristol, where period products are given for free, but more has to be done to eliminate the discrimination felt by girls and women who are affected.
The second story was about 21-year old Parbati Borgati from Nepal who was staying in a menstrual hut during her period and died of suffocation from smoke inhalation. Borgati who had been staying in this abandoned hut decided to keep warm one cold night by burning wood and clothing and tragically died in her sleep. Menstrual huts are not unusual for women in some parts of Nepal, India, and Africa and the concept of these huts comes from years of tradition and in some cases, out of religion.
The tradition of “chhaupadi” In Nepal is part of a long-standing belief stemming from Hinduism that during a woman’s menstrual cycle, she is deemed unclean. As part of this tradition, women are banned from being in the kitchen, using kitchen utensils, sharing meals, going to the temple or being with their families, and are segregated to huts made from mud or stone. The huts are no bigger than closets and these women brave the elements and pests on their own.
In recent years, women’s rights activists have fought to end “chhaupadi”. Even the government of Nepal has outlawed menstrual huts since 2005. They have gone so far as to criminalize it this past August for those who continue to force women to use them, but unfortunately in some western villages of Nepal, these actions have not been as successful. While tradition can be blamed for the continuity of their use, guilt plays a huge part in it as well. In areas where menstrual huts have been used by women for generations, it is difficult for them to turn their backs on what’s been viewed as part of their way of life.
One of the ways that “chhaupadi” is being discouraged is through cash incentives. Recently, a rural governor has offered to give $5,000 rupees to any woman who rejects using menstrual sheds. While it seems like a great solution, it’s not sustainable since so many still use these sheds out of tradition and fear of being ostracized by their families for not following this custom.
My experience with menstruation did not result in tragedy, but it was still traumatizing for a thirteen-year-old girl. I was on a family vacation when I got my period while playing outdoors with my cousins. I felt some discharge on my underwear and thought I had soiled myself. I ran to the bathroom and was gripped with fear when I saw blood on my underwear, unaware of what was happening to me. It wasn’t until my aunt knocked on the bathroom door to see if I was okay that I told her about the blood. It was then that I was educated about “periods” and what I should do next and in the future.
Why was I told about “periods” by my aunt, as opposed to my mother? As someone whose mother came from the Philippines, the word “period” was never discussed in her household, so I was never educated about it by my mother. This was a silent “problem” and no one was allowed to talk about it to anyone, especially men. Gender roles play a big part in a lot of Filipino families, and “periods” are seen as female problems. While there have been strides over the years to ensure that young women in rural parts of the Philippines are educated about menstruation as those living in urban areas, the perception of having a “period” is still seen as a woman’s problem.
In light of last year’s Academy Awards event in the US where the award for Best Foreign Film was given to a documentary short made in India titled, “Period. End of a Sentence.”, there has been a great amount of awareness brought towards the issue of menstruation. Created by Rayka Zehtabchi, the film showed how menstruation is still a taboo subject in rural parts of India and that even the word “period” evokes shame for girls and ignorance for boys. Education about menstruation plays a huge part in breaking the taboo it has affected generations of girls and boys. What struck me was how the girls reacted towards the word as opposed to the boys. The girls were painfully self-conscious saying the word, while the boys were quite unaffected by the issue, even worse, had no idea what the word “period” meant.
The film follows some women in rural Hapur district, just outside of Delhi, India, and exposes the contradicting points of view regarding menstruation between genders and as seen by older generations, but there were positive results as well. Discussing the subject of menstruation and the necessity of safe menstrual products like pads was crucial for both genders. Another positive outcome of the film was creating job opportunities for these women so they could feel empowered. That opportunity would come from an unlikely source, a man named Arunachalam Murugunantham from Tamil Nadu.
When Muruganantham found out that his wife was using newspapers or filthy rags for her period, he decided to create sanitary pads that were safe and could be purchased at a low cost. Muruganantham created a pad machine that made sanitary pads using cellulose fibers from pine wood pulp, which was great for absorption and retaining the pad’s shape. Traditionally, men have never been involved with anything related to menstruation, especially in rural parts of India, so it’s no surprise that Muruganantham’s wife, Shanti, was not supportive of his invention in the beginning.
Muruganantham’s goal of educating young women about safe sanitary pads through his pad machine and the rise of a micro-economy from selling them in local stores at a low cost has given these women the confidence to provide for their families. It was amazing to see the transformation of these women from being shy and silent about the topic of “periods” to feeling empowered and ready to provide for themselves and their communities as a result of Muruganantham’s invention.
The success of “Period. End of Sentence.” is an indication that more has to be done to enlighten parts of the world about menstruation. In today’s world where women from Western countries can speak freely about reproductive health, it’s heartbreaking to see other women that are still suppressed either by tradition or guilt to speak out about issues that harm them or lose their lives, just like the women who died in the menstrual huts. It is my hope that this film continues to break gender inequity, not just in India but in other parts of the world where women are banished just because they have their period. No woman deserves to feel invisible or worse, lose their life due to a lack of education, especially about their bodies.
To read the articles regarding this post, click below:
Do you remember when you had your first period? Did you know what to do? Did you have someone to talk to about what menstruation was? In India, the idea of menstruation has been a taboo subject until one woman decided to tackle it head on.
Aditi Gupta had her first period when she was 12, but was told to keep it a secret. Why? In India, menstruation is seen as taboo and thought of as something that shouldn’t be discussed with anyone. The issue of menstruation has often created a stigma around it, especially in rural communities. With fear of being ostracized for something they can’t control, Gupta decided that there had to be a way to take away the shame and empower girls to speak about menstruation freely.
With the help of her husband Tuhin Paul, they created Menstrupedia in 2012, a website that outlines the physical and emotional changes that girls go through, during menstruation, as well as answering questions that girls wouldn’t ask anyone else for fear of retaliation.
While Menstrupedia was a good first step in learning about menstruation, it wasn’t enough to tackle the ongoing stigma that girls and women go through during their cycle. This stigma brings about isolation for millions of girls who don’t understand how to get past an age old tradition that shames them for being seen as impure. In order to bring more awareness of this issue, Gupta & Paul created a Menstrupedia comic book that considerably helps girls be more informed on it.
The comic book features four main characters who talk about menstruation when one of the characters gets her period. Through dialogue and illustration of the female anatomy, the subject is explained in detail, ensuring that girls from ages nine and above can understand the information. In addition, the message they want to spread is one of inclusion, not shame.
My first encounter with menstruation at twelve was confusing and frustrating. I was away from home and when I realized that I was going through it, I had no clue what was going on with my body. My mother never prepared me for what to expect with regard to menstruation. I was on vacation at my aunt’s home and in midst of playing with my cousins when I started to feel some discharge staining my shorts. Horrified and scared because I had no idea why I was bleeding, I ran to the bathroom and from behind closed doors, was informed by my aunt that I was menstruating. I was never told by my mother about this radical change in my body and thought there was something wrong with me. Fortunately, my aunt made sure to educate me about menstruation and future bodily changes I would go through during puberty by telling me about her experience.
It was not uncommon for my mother to withhold information about menstruation, since menstrual hygiene was never discussed in her family, and especially in public. In addition, awareness of menstruation was not supported because it was seen as a “woman’s problem”.
Education plays a big part in spreading awareness about this issue, but unfortunately, age-old traditions play just as big a part in how girls are perceived when they go through puberty. While traditions should be respected, it should never be at the cost of taking away a girl’s right to be educated about her body. Gupta’s comic book is a great way of educating girls in India on menstrual hygiene. In addition, it empowers them to take control over their bodies and not be shamed for what is happening to their physical well-being naturally.
To see the original article regarding this post, click here.
How is menstruation handled in your country?
Pic Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Last April, I traveled to Nicaragua, staying in the Chinandega, Managua and Granada regions of the country. I have traveled to many places, but never to Central America so I was really excited to embark on this new adventure. Nicaragua is famous for its volcanoes (including volcano boarding) and its amazing waterfront beaches where surfing is a must. It’s rich history, unique culture and incredible people make it an idea travel destination.
But Nicaragua has undergone many transformations over the years, rebuilding from internal unrest and strained global relations. Almost half of the Nicaraguan population lives below the poverty line. People struggle to provide the basic necessities to their children, and for many young girls, this can mean having to miss school when their periods start.
Just before going to Nicaragua, I met an amazing woman, Brenda Porter, living in my community who runs the local chapter of ‘Days for Girls’. I had never heard of the organization before reading about Brenda in the local newspaper. As the name suggests, Brenda and her countless volunteers, dedicate most of their free time to making and assembling sustainable menstruation kits, that are then brought all over the world to communities in need. With access to the menstruation kits, girls can attend school all year round, not missing school because of their periods. Missing a week of school per month has a huge impact on the educational success of girls. It means they are put at a disadvantage as soon as puberty hits. I connected with Brenda, and with the support of my friends, travel companions and Brenda’s incredible ‘Days for Girls’ network, I was able to bring two suitcases full of menstruation kits to Nicaragua free of charge.
With the help of the owners of the eco-resort I stayed at, El Coco Loco, we were put in touch with an American nurse’ Margarite (Meg), who runs a health clinic in a rural area outside Chinandega (http://coenicaragua.weebly.com/). She was thrilled to receive the kits and held a sexual education clinic for local village girls before distributing the kits. She was so overwhelmed by the response of local girls to the kits, and had no idea that there was such a need in the community.
Days For Girls
Days for Girls is a global organization. If you are travelling to countries where girls may be in need of the menstruation kits, I highly recommend reaching out to this wonderful organization. No girl should be put at a disadvantage in school when her period starts. And, if you have a local chapter nearby, please consider donating time to help cut material, sew pads and assemble kits.
For more information, please visit: www.daysforgirls.org
This is an original post by Alison Fraser who is Founder and Director of Mom2Mom Africa.
Picture Credits to the author
I grew up in a house full of girls with one baby brother, who was so much younger than me that our friends and social lives didn’t overlap.
Now that I am the mother of three boys and one girl, I am learning many things I never knew about boys: they are more straightforward, easier to read, and, honestly, easier to persuade than girls. Boys wrestle–a lot. Even when they haven’t got the hang of walking yet, they wrestle. (I still don’t know why.) Boys are more emotional than I expected, and more sensitive.
I know there’s a lot more to learn about raising boys, and I’m excited to do it–especially because I can call in their father whenever something freaks me out.
Despite my growing expertise in raising boys, something recently caught me off guard. Something obvious in our society, but not so prevalent in my ‘tribe’ (which is what I call my close family–mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.).
My eldest turned 11 this year, and is in the phase between boy and teenager. And I find myself surprised to discover that our society’s segregation of men and women is changing my relationship with my own son.
I was totally unprepared for the separation that occurred when he moved from the little school to the big school. I went from being able to walk into his class, to speak to his teacher, and to meet his friends and their moms, to having to drop him off and pick him up outside the school gate (but not right in front of it, where the other boys could see us).
No more going into the school, unless I make an appointment with the headmaster and go to his office to speak with the teachers. (And even that is not permissible in most boys’ schools, the majority of which would not even allow a woman on the premises. The same is true for girls’ schools, which don’t permit men on the premises.)
My son can no longer go into the all-women area of the malls. In a few years, he won’t be allowed in any area of the mall without a ‘family’ for fear he will terrorize the girls. (Ironically, some young teenagers wait outside the malls and approach older women, or women with children, and ask them to pretend they are one family to gain entrance into the mall.)
Soon, my son won’t invite his friends over when his sister is home, although he could still invite cousins and close family friends.
There are so many unwritten rules concerning the separation of girls and boys, and a million variations. For some families, it’s pretty black and white: unless he is your brother or father, or unless she is your sister or mother, you don’t spend time with them. It also depends upon the region. In the eastern or western provinces, strict segregation is not as prevalent as it is here in the central region. In seacoast areas, people have the benefit of interacting with many cultures, and are therefore more forgiving.
I am baffled by how our society has become so segregated. Throughout the early history of Islam, segregation wasn’t practiced. Modesty and chastity, yes. Total segregation, no. I do not even think it was part of our culture as Saudis. At least, not to the extent it is today.
Until recently, Bedouin women were expected to welcome travelers into their tents, and to make them coffee, and even dinner, regardless of whether her husband was there. Yes, most would have had their faces covered (again, a cultural custom, not religious one), but they interacted with men all the time. It’s only in recent years that things have changed. Some put it down to the influences that came into Saudi when it was united. Others say it is a reaction to how fast we were exposed to the outside world, and how quickly we went from tribal life to modern-day life.
Theories aside, I’m facing the reality of being shut out of a part of my son’s life and of him being shut out of mine.
When I explained my concern to one of his teachers (over the phone) he said, “You can’t follow him around all of his life!” As if I were a stalker! Am I being a stalker? Hmmm, I wonder how involved I would be in his day-to-day school life if I were?
My biggest fear is that if he gets caught up in the wrong crowd, segregation makes it easier in certain houses with absent fathers to make mistakes and do stupid stuff. I thank God his father keeps an eye on him, and that he still fills me in about his day and talks to me when he is upset. If we can continue to talk, I think I may be okay.
Perhaps I just don’t like not being in control of the situation, or perhaps it’s that I don’t have the choice.
Would you naturally step back from your son’s day-to-day life when he turns 11 or 12? Would you withdraw from knowing his friends and supervising his outings?
It’s all foreign territory for me now, and I am learning to deal with it as best I can.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and mother of four, Mama B.
Photo credit: Dr. Coop under Flickr Creative Commons License
The Wicked Witch of the West
Eight years ago I had my first child, a daughter. Like most new parents, I got all sorts of advice and did a great deal of information gathering; particularly on those uncharted, early stages of infancy and babyhood.
I knew it was possible my child would have colic, GERD, and rashes. I had heard about the “terrible twos” and the “trying threes.” I was fortified for long days and short nights, especially during the early years. And I knew having a child home to entertain and educate for five years would be a whole different challenge from my professional life.
But, I thought I was ready because I knew—at the end of a long, sometimes dark, tunnel—there would be kindergarten, followed by the blissful and innocent days of elementary school to put me back on track. I anticipated that from age 5-11, life would be pretty seamless. Five years of struggle followed by at least six of predictability before the challenges of the teenage years moved in.
So when our daughter entered kindergarten three years ago, my husband and I settled in for the “predictable” parenting years we were expecting.
Sadly—and far too soon—those years are coming to a close…
This past summer, we got glimpses of something we had heard about but weren’t prepared for just yet: moodiness, sassy attitude, changes in speaking style, exploration of identity, greater awareness of appearance and increased self-consciousness.
Now that 3rd-grade is in full-swing, those glimpses are becoming the norm. It’s fairly clear that we are entering a new stage of parenting: we’re entering the TWEENS.
“Tween” is a term we use here in the US to describe the pre-teen stage of life. It’s in-between being a sweet, young kid, who’s dependent on parents and family for every aspect of life, and puberty, when a child morphs into a sassy, experimenting, independent teenager, stomping off toward adulthood.
The Tweens is a stage of life—I think populated almost exclusively by girls—when kids try to propel themselves prematurely into their next growth phase. They test out language they pick up from older kids, through pop-music and from movies and television. They mimic styles they see in the media. They use vernacular such as “like” and “whatever” and “no way!” They gravitate almost exclusively to their own gender groups.
And despite even the best attempts to shield children from pop culture and the negative influences present on TV, they still somehow find their fix at school.
The tweens are a funny, little limbo-land.
Take our daughter for example: She’s still afraid of the dark (in fact, she’s fairly convinced the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz is living in her closet); her favorite Disney character is Sofia the First; she loves kittens and rainbows, unicorns and stuffed animals. But recently, she also has discovered Disney’s High School Musical, and when we go to our pediatrician’s office, she pours over the book, It’s Perfectly Normal, (she has a lot of questions about both).
These days, she prone to emotional outbursts, demanding “alone” time and spontaneous moments of being shy. Aren’t these teenager behaviors?
Tonight, while my five-year-old was in a martial arts class, my daughter and I sat in the car having a chat. She said she was sad because she felt frustrated and sort of out of control. I found myself explaining puberty to her and talking about hormones and endorphins and lots of other changes in our bodies that made us feel confused and out of sorts…Uh, did I mention she’s only 8?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the onset of puberty in girls now happens as young as 7! OK, so none of my early parenthood prep or information gathering or family planning ever involved needing to have these conversations so soon. Afterall, my youngest just started kindergarten. By my accounts, I had just come out of the trenches. I’m not battle ready. I don’t have my armor on. This is going to be a massacre!
But this is where we are these days…the in-beTWEENS. Wish us luck.
Have you experienced these sorts of changes in your own child(ren)? If so, at what age? Any advice for getting through to the other side?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our managing editor and mother of two (one of whom is entering her tweens), Kyla P’an.
The image used in this post is credited to Karen. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
A few months ago, my older son George turned ten. I felt a sense of wonderment at the fact that I had actually succeeded in keeping a human being alive for an entire decade. To put this into perspective, let me just say that as a kid I ripped the limbs off my dolls. I was not exactly a poster child for parenting potential. I know more than a few people who might legitimately be surprised that I’ve been more-or-less successful as a mother.
As George blew out his birthday candles, though, I also felt a jolt of terror. These ten years have gone so quickly, and in just eight more short years, my firstborn child will be nominally (although probably not academically) ready to graduate high school.
But wait! Before that even happens, before we have to make scary decisions about adulthood and post-school life, we have to navigate the stormy teenage years – a period that I don’t think any parent looks forward to, never mind the parent of a child with autism. (more…)