Stigma is a powerful force on our lives. It discourages us from doing or makes us feel ashamed about certain things – so although stigma isn’t tangible, its repercussions are. That’s why it’s particularly heartbreaking when stigma is attached to behaviour someone has no control over. And in this particular case, that “someone” is a marginalizes population already fighting for a place in society: adolescent girls.
While in the face of early marriage, domestic violence, limited economic and educational opportunities, and a constant struggle for safety, the last thing women need to take on is the stigma attached to menstruation. Menstruation comes with feelings of shame, exclusion from activities, and a hit to self-confidence. We will not achieve gender equality as long as women are shamed for a natural body process. In fact, a study done by NGO India indicates that 23% of girls completely drop out of school once they hit puberty because of the lack of toilets in schools. Furthermore, the stigma is so far-reaching that women are not dealing with their periods safely and hygienically, because of both a lack of supplies and a lack of knowledge.
This has been happening for generations and enough is enough. One of the most harmful things we can do for the rising generation of girls is to pass onto them harmful, outdated, untrue ideas. It’s time to teach our girls the truth about menstrual hygiene, and that’s why we partnered with Goonj for a two day workshop on the matter. The focus? Awareness and accessibility – dispelling myths, teaching the biology of menstruation, discussing sanitary practices for washing menstrual cloths, and the distribution of MY pads.
One major step we’ve made as a community is that girls now receive free pads in school along with their awareness sessions. Unfortunately, girls and women who are not in school often cannot afford them. The alternative many turn to is using cloth from old clothing or even sand wrapped in leaves. Cloths are then washed and hidden under beds to dry, where they can mould and cause infection. Goonj taught proper techniques for washing and reusing cloths and passed out MY pads – a reusable cloth pad made specifically for menstruation purposes – at the end of the session, along with undergarments. MY pads are cost effective and the women who received them now know how to care for them.
We envision a world where menstruation is not a taboo topic and women are not shamed into unsanitary practices to keep it hidden. However hefty the task of changing an established norm is, we have to start somewhere – no matter how small. For us, it starts with 50 women in the J.P. colony and, little by little, we’re working with women toward the ultimate goal of driving gender-based violence out of our society.
To learn more and to donate to this project please click here.
Written by Alexis Moon, Summer Intern, University of Utah, USA