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Menstrual hygiene: breaking the silence

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 1 Mar 2012 15:38 GMT
Author: Belen Torondel
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Belen Torondel is a microbiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is conducting a systematic review of evidence regarding menstrual hygiene management for SHARE a consortium researching sanitation and hygiene solutions. The opinions expressed are her own.

Menstruation is a major part of life for millions of young girls and women worldwide. On average, a woman will menstruate for 3,000 days during her lifetime.

However, the needs and challenges faced by many young women and girls as they struggle to manage their menstrual hygiene are largely ignored, especially in developing countries. This situation persists despite new developments in the hygiene and sanitation sector in recent years.

Addressing this issue is not just about the availability of related products and facilities: hygienic sanitary pads, water, and toilets with lockable doors to ensure privacy.

It also involves tackling the embarrassment that prevents young girls and women sharing their questions, the shame often associated with menstruation, and the cruelty of people laughing at young girls and women when they find out they are menstruating.

This situation gets even more complicated if young girls and women have to go to schools or other public places where there is either no toilet or no hygienic toilet, no water and soap, and no facilities for disposal of materials.

Many of them decide to stay at home and therefore miss many hours of school and education. Menstruation can also affect women’s social lives, especially in cultures where menstruating women are expected to act, or are treated, differently.

For example, in some cultures, a woman may not attend community worship and in certain cases must stay away from her family during menstruation due to social taboos.

Many women are also subject to health risks. Urinary tract infections, dermatitis, abdominal pains, vaginal scabies and complications during pregnancy can all be caused by poor menstrual hygiene management.

The factors leading to these difficulties include lack of awareness, lack of hygienic sanitary pads, lack of toilets without water and soap, and lack of drying areas for rags used for menstrual hygiene management.

I wonder why the issue of menstrual hygiene management continues to be neglected? Is it because female voices are not heard within the family, town, health service, government, or intervention programmes?

Is the topic not discussed because women feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it? Or are such messages not listened to by policy-makers designing programmes for the education and health sectors?

Who should be doing something, and which sector should take the lead: gender, sanitation, education, reproductive health, or the private sector?

Women and girls of the world: talk about the topic and break the taboo. This is the starting point of a long journey that we all still need to walk together.

Our contribution is to begin assessing the current available evidence and to identify areas of research that can make a difference in this important aspect of women’s life. This research will serve as a foundation for action on this important issue.

Belen Torondel will be speaking about her research at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille on 14 March.

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