Standing up Against Stigma: Global Discussions on Menstrual Hygiene and Management

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Millions of girls in conflict disaster zones such as Lebanon and Myanmar lack access to supplies and information regarding menstrual hygiene management (MHM). MHM consists of a combination of information and practices to ensure a safe and dignified menstrual period. Researchers argue the greatest gap in MHM lies in the provision of practical information to address the cultural taboos around menstruation, and the lack of proper self-care resources and support to manage this monthly cycle.

In Nepal, campaigners call on authorities to step up efforts to demystify menstruation after another woman has died from chauupadi. This is an ancient Hindu ritual which banishes women to mud huts during menstruation due to the dogmatic, superstitious belief that menstruation is impure and may bring bad luck to the home.

A founder of the charity, Action Works Nepal, shared a potential solution: to create a national dialogue about menstrual stigma. The denial of rights is a learned behavior, and centuries of silence, shame, restriction, coercion and injustice will must be banished from our psyches. Although most humanitarian response efforts emphasize supplies, such as providing reusable menstrual pads to women in Uganda’s rural villages, current assessments highlight the need for a holistic approach to MHM which also incorporates open consultation about menstruation.

This call for MHM discussion extends past Nepal, and Uganda; this issue cuts across class, culture, and geography. In the United States, mainstream media coverage has discussed the Menstrual Equality for All Act (H. R. 972), introduced by a group of congresswomen to give low-income individuals credits for period supplies and require both employers and prisons to provide free menstrual products to female employees and inmates. Yet, the majority of media coverage is devoted to tampon campaigns, such as U by Kotex, which pitch smaller, discreet products that women can easily hide.

For women and girls across the globe, having access to menstrual products is as important as soap or toilet paper, and should be just as easy to ask for, but this is not the reality. Due to centuries of silence, shame, and restriction on the topic, women around the world face challenges in the ability to manage their menstruation safely, comfortably, and with dignity. Grassroots co-founder of Helping Women Period shares that in addition to increasing access to products, the greater ‘meta’ impact comes from spreading awareness and increasing conversation for this issue to everyone in our community. It is time to ignite a shift in the corporate media coverage of  MHM from ads of feminine hygiene products to calls for feminine hygiene rights.

Sources:

Archana Patkarv, “Menstrual Health and Vitality: Breaking the Silence, Stemming the Flood,” Inter Press Service, May 23, 2017, http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/menstrual-health-and-vitality-breaking-the-silence-stemming-the-flood.

Amanda Klasing, Patsy Kisakye, and Marni Sommer, “U.S. Congresswomen Push for Menstruation with Dignity for Women, Girls,” Women’s ENews, June 4, 2017, https://womensenews.org/2017/06/u-s-congresswomen-push-for-menstruation-with-dignity-for-women-girls.

Lauren Jones, “Tampon Ads Aren’t Made for Women–They’re Made for Men,” The Tempest, December 16, 2017, https://thetempest.co/2017/09/20/entertainment/tampons-periods-advertisements-commercials.

Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez, “Getting Your Period Can Be a Pain. Getting It While Homeless Is Even Worse,” YES! Magazine, July 27, 2017,  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/getting-your-period-can-be-a-pain-getting-it-while-homeless-is-even-worse-20170727.

Zaheena Rasheed, “Why Menstrual Stigma Continues to Claim Lives in Nepal,” Al Jazeera, January 17, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/menstrual-stigma-continues-claim-lives-nepal-180111125347290.html.

“Study Calls for Less Shame and Secrecy Around Menstruation in Global Conflict Areas,” EurekAlert!, October 15, 2017, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/cums-scf101017.php.

Student Researcher: Lauren A. Mason (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)