Menstrual Hygiene: An Overlooked Path to Equality

Just last week, around the world, individuals and organizations participated in Menstrual Hygiene Day, which aims to underscore and raise awareness of the importance of menstrual hygiene and dismantle stigmatism surrounding this vital function of women’s bodies.

The commonplace stigmatization of menstruation leaves this critical health concern vastly untouched and overlooked, resulting in a myriad of consequences.

As governments around the world continue to step in to protect vulnerable communities and populations amidst these especially dire times, their largely gender biased assistance not only leaves the health of women at risk, but also, humanity at large.

While women around the world make up under 50% of the estimated global paid working population, they represent over 75% of the healthcare sector employees (The World Health Organization). In February, as Wuhan, China saw its peak in Coronavirus cases, a lack of menstrual hygiene products rapidly emerged as a pressing issue for the many female healthcare professionals endeavoring to save lives on the front lines. The Chinese government had been rejecting donations of sanitary pads and disposable underwear, as only delivery of government-deemed “medical essentials” are granted priority permission. Consequently, female medical personnel were encouraged to take birth control pills to avoid periods due to the shortage of feminine hygiene products. As these actions on behalf of the government incited tremendous outrage among medical personnel alongside women around the world, authorities and manufacturers responded to resulting movements by sending donations and vowing to continue to do so.

The above account is merely one of the abundant instances of far-reaching incognizance and neglect of this very fundamental need. Around the world, women lack access to basic feminine hygiene, including menstruation supplies, underwear, soap, and clean toilets with running water and locks. Displaced women and girls alongside those living in underserved communities are left especially in need of critical hygiene necessities. As a result, many use rags or pieces of moss in place of a sanitary napkin, which contributes directly to heightened infections and other serious health complications. Moreover, given the pervasive stigmatism surrounding menstruation, girls often ostracize themselves during their periods due to shame or embarrassment, resulting in a multitude of mental health consequences.

Aside from the immediate, tangible health repercussions women and girls face due to a lack of basic hygiene necessities, there are many pervasive and longstanding risks to this detrimental oversight. A lack of access to adequate toilets coupled with the taboo of menstruation leaves girls seeking a private setting to wash, leaving them especially at risk of gender-based violence. Moreover, so-called “period poverty” leaves millions of girls unwilling and unable to attend school when they are menstruating.

As we are fighting to bring an end to gender-based violence and bolster the number of girls in school around the world, we cannot afford this pervasive disregard to feminine hygiene.

Periods have become recognized by doctors around the world as a fifth vital sign, meaning it is deemed as important as temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure when it comes to assessing our overall health. Moreover, girls in school has been shown to prevent child marriage, early pregnancy, and genital cutting; build more stable communities; cultivate more awareness and action surrounding climate change; strengthen economies; and improve the lives and overall health of communities at large. When girls are not attending school as a result of a natural bodily function, we must take action. When women don’t understand their bodies, or feel ashamed to experience a critical signal of health, we must take action.

When humans are born into this world already at a disadvantage given their sex, race, ability, socioeconomic status, and beyond, we must take action.

Author’s note: In order to bring an end to period poverty, consider supporting organizations such as Freedom4Girls, Conscious Period, Days for Girls, A Woman’s Worth, Happy Period, Support the Girls, WASH, amongst others. Your support will help dreams of a future healthy and equal world shift one step closer to becoming a reality.

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