In the first of a monthly blog series by a collective of writers wanting to demystify and disseminate the truths surrounding menstruation, Sarai Keestra investigates the taboos surrounding menstruation and the lack of knowledge pervading in the developing world.
Lets talk about the thing that cannot be named. I don’t mean Voldemort, and I don’t even mean sex. This time, lets talk about menstruation.
Menstruation is a topic we rarely dare to talk about without whispering; people consider it a dirty topic, whereas it is actually a very natural thing. 50% of the adult population experiences it every month, but still it is not considered suitable for conversations. This is not only the case in Western cultures; it is even worse in many developing countries. A third of women and girls surveyed by the UN’s sanitation unit WSSCC (Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council had never heard of menstruation before and over 70% thought menstrual blood was dirty. 40% of the girls in Iran surveyed by UNICEF thought that menstruation was a disease they could be cured of. This lack of knowledge can have wide ranging effects.
In many cultures women are not allowed to participate in society if they are on their period. 95% of the girls surveyed in a study for Nepal’s Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) have some restriction while they are on their period. This can range from not going to school to not being allowed in the house and having to sleep in animal sheds. Also in some rural places in India, such as in Sitatola in the Maharashtra state, women have to stay in huts called Gaokors while on their period. They don’t have kitchens as the women are not allowed to cook and 98% even lack a proper bed. In many other cultures women who are menstruating are also treated as outcasts.
Many women do not use sanitary pads, which can lead to serious health impacts. For example in India only 12% of the women uses sanitary pads. The reasons for this is are that many women can’t afford them and myths circulate about women going blind after using them. Instead they used sand, rags, dust and other unhygienic substances. Lack of menstrual hygiene is therefore the cause of 70% of STDs in Indian women.
Surprisingly, not talking about menstruation also has economic impacts. a lot of charity organisations used to focus on building schools and water pumps in developing countries, according to The Guardian 55% of the schools in the least developed countries lack toilets. This means that many girls don’t go to school while they are on their period and a substantial part might even stop going to school at all.
Going back to India, 66% of the girls’ schools lack functional toilets. According to a study called ‘Sanitary Protection: Every woman’s health right’ conducted in 2011, 23% of girls drop out after they start menstruating and those in school miss an average of five days a month because of their period. We can see similar rates for young women in other countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. This can have far reaching effects, as for each year of primary school education the women’s future earnings grow and for every year of secondary education the annual per capita income grows by 0.3%. Awareness and better education on menstruation is not only important for improving the lives of girls all over the world, but also for the economy of poorer countries.
So talking about menstruation is not only about breaking a cultural taboo, it is also important for health reasons and may even have positive economic impacts. One point I want to make clear: I am not some weird feminist who is cranky that men ignore this sex-related condition, it is also us women that never speak up publicly about menstruation. Stop treating menstruation like Voldemort and start talking.
Featured Image Credit- Wikipedia