Taking about cycles to break the cycle
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
"Menstruation is the only blood that is not born from violence, yet it's the one that disgusts you the most" - Maia Schwartz
In 2020, the female menstruation cycle still holds a great deal of taboo within modern society. For developing counties though, the challenges around having a period extend far deeper with inadequate hygiene practices, a lack of education and cultural perceptions leading to a significant disparity in how women around the world face their routine
Let's look in the context of Australia and Kenya. These two countries are vastly different in how women can access and care, safely and respectfully, for themselves during their menstruation cycle. Since Australia abolished the tampon tax on January 1st 2019, Australia has led the way in the fight against period poverty.
While Kenya too has gotten rid of its tampon and pad taxes, 65% of women and girls are still unable to afford sanitary items (FSG, May 2016). The un-affordability of these items means that over half the female population of Kenya cannot adequately manage their menstruation cycle with figures only expected to rise due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
This inability to access quality and affordable sanitary products often leads to Kenyan girls and women making unhygienic makeshift pads from available materials or engaging in risky behaviour such as sexual transactions as a means to be able to afford women's products. These unhygienic and dangerous behaviours; are not only problematic in the short term but can also lead to lifelong physical and mental health conditions.
Further complicating these inadequate hygiene practices is a lack of suitable disposal sites for sanitary products as well as a lack of access to clean water for both toileting and cleaning. According to data from the World Health Organisation in 2019, 100% of the Australian population has sustainable access to improved sanitation water (Limited, 2009). In contrast, Kenya has just 42% despite Kenya, having approximately 28.1 million more people than in Australia (Elsewhere, 2020).
In terms of education, in recent years, pubescent and menstruation education has become a significant focal point within Australia schools with ministers, teachers and external organisations all recognising the critical need for this education to begin in adolescence. In August 2017, the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia in association with Endometriosis New Zealand trialled the Menstrual Health and Endometriosis 'me' program in South Australia.
In Term 3, 2019, Victorian public schools began offering free pads and tampons to all Victorian students in an attempt to break the stigma and increase inclusivity. External organisations such as Lunette Menstrual Cups, Modibodi, and Share the Dignity, also continue to provide free comprehensive, engaging and informative resources to Australian schools (Education, 2020).
In Kenya, though, girls and boys still have limited access to high quality and comprehensive puberty education. Many Kenyan girls, experiencing their periods for the first time do not understand what is happening to their bodies due to their limited knowledge on biological processes which can lead to high levels of psychological panic, worry and anxiety.
The lack of menstruation teaching within the school systems is not compensated either by the sharing of knowledge from family and friends. In fact, 50% of Kenyan girls do not openly discuss menstruation at home (FSG, May 2016). Older family members, often believe this is a sensitive and inappropriate topic while some Kenyan males also don't know what a period is.
Maybe the most significant factor causing this disparity is cultural attitudes, beliefs and myths. While society as a whole still has work to do, Australia is making progress. Generational changes have meant that some stigma surrounding periods has been lost and more often than not, Australians celebrate a girl's first period as a transition into womanhood. Conversations also continue to become more open and comfortable, and more period positivity representation is occurring in Australian media.
In Kenya, however; period exclusion, shaming and bullying remain as a detrimental problem for girls and women experiencing their periods in the East African country. Periods are still culturally considered dirty, unclean and impure. Due to this perception; the average Kenyan schoolgirl misses four out of 28 days per month, around two weeks every term, because of the unavailability of sanitary products and fear that others will notice and shame them for having their period (Koh, 2019).
Exclusion based on menstruating also occurs in workplaces, within communities and even in the home environment. In 2019, the tragic and distressing case of Jackline Chepngeno made headlines across the world. Jackline was a 14-year-old female from the South-Western region of Kabiangek in Kenya who was shamed by her class teacher for having her periods (Grant, 2019).
Being her first time, she did not have a sanitary pad and leaked through onto her pants. Her teacher humiliated her in front of her classmates, calling her "dirty". From there, she made her leave the classroom and stand outside. Jackline feeling so heavily traumatised and upset by the situation, later that day took her own life. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, with many girls and women turning to self-harm and suicide over similar shaming.
While this article does provide a very heavy and grim overview, there is plenty that we can do together to generate positivity, inclusivity and empowerment for women's menstruation health in all parts of the world. Most recently Genna met with a lovely lady named Kay from the Napean Valley branch in the Blue Mountain. Kay generously and kindly donated 30 Days for Girls kits to Gennarosity Abroad.
Days for Girls, helps women and girls have access to quality menstrual supplies month after month, year after year. Days for Girl supports a girl throughout her entire lifecycle, from providing her with a DfG Kit, to teaching her health education, to offering training for her as she grows older, so that she can produce DfG Kits and support hygiene needs in her community. The unique design of these washable pads in the DfG Kits, allow them to be washed with little water and dry quickly, and if taken care of, can last from two to five years - perfect for developing countries such as Kenya (Australia, 2020). If you would like to find out more information regarding these kits or would like to order these kits to donate to Gennarosity Aboard for re-distribution to our partner projects in Kenya, please follow this link.
When it comes down to it, menstruation is just a regular human bodily function. It allows our bodies to grow, develop and get ready for all the beautiful aspects of womanhood. We need to eliminate any shame associated with having periods. Dignity and menstruation equality is a right of all women, and all those who menstruate. It is not a privilege, and it is about time we talk about our cycles to break the cycle.