Human Rights, Myths and Truths: Menstrual Health Awakening

Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com

Hello all! May is about to draw to a close but this month can never be complete without Menstrual Hygiene day, the 28th day of May, set aside for us to talk about menstrual hygiene and create awareness. Menstruation, the process in which the uterus sheds blood and tissue through the vagina is a regular visitor of women and girls around the world. It is worrisome that at least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Contrary to what many may think, menstruation is an issue that affects everyone.

UNESCO defines menstrual hygiene and health as the existence of accurate and timely menstruation knowledge, safe and affordable period materials, informed and comfortable professionals, referral and access to health services, sanitation and washing facilities, positive social norms, safe and hygienic disposal and menstrual advocacy and policy.

Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com

Human Rights and Menstruation

Even though menstruation is a norm for most, not every menstruator is fortunate enough to experience proper menstrual hygiene and health. According to UNFPA, several human rights are undermined by the treatment women and girls face during menstruation. And unfortunately, period poverty – defined as lack of knowledge of menstruation and an inability to access necessary sanitary materials – continues to thrive.

  • Right to water and sanitation: Water and sanitation facilities, such as safe bathing and affordable water supply are essential to manage menstrual health. On any given day, approximately 800 million women and girls globally are on their periods, but unfortunately, one-third of this population still lack access to clean water, female-friendly, decent and private toilets, hygiene facilities and sanitary materials to manage menstruation with dignity.
  • Right to Education: Do you know that there are girls who miss school during their periods? Why? For reasons ranging from menstruation pain, to discrimination, to lack of period products. Across the world, girls suffer absenteeism from school due to inadequate period management and their performance suffers.

  • Right to Health: Worldwide, women and girls suffer negative health consequences because they lack adequate materials and facilities for period management. It is saddening that menstruators continually face stigma when they seek treatment for menstruation-related disorders or pain, which reduces their quality of life.

  • Right to Work: Do you know that menstruators are sometimes prevented from doing some jobs because of the fact that they menstruate? This workplace discrimination is fueled by period myths and taboos. Also, poor access to safe menstrual management and hygiene and lack of medication to treat menstruation-related disorders or pain limits job opportunities for women and girls.

  • Right to non-discrimination and gender equality: I saved this for last because it will lead us to our next section. If there is one thing that menstruation-related stigma and norms does, it is to reinforce discriminatory practices. The existence of these barriers at work, school, in public places, prolong gender inequalities.

Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com

Human Rights and Period Myths

Several period myths abound and as we explore them, you will come to understand that they all undermine human rights of menstruators. Now, while some of them are more hilarious than the last, some are serious and obeyed stringently, causing negative impacts on menstruators’ lives. While some of these myths were borne out of the situation at the time, others from ignorance, there are those that stemmed out of discrimination towards menstruators with the intention of trampling on our human rights.

Some water-related period myths. I have a feeling these water-related period myths were borne out of a lack of washing facilities at the time.

  • Argentina: If you take a bath, your bleeding will stop and stopping bleeding is bad for your health.

  • Italy: You can’t go to the beach or pool (no contact with water basically).

  • UK: While on your period, you can’t take a bath.

 

Periods are dirty’ myths

  • Nepal: You can’t be in homes or have contact with anybody.

  • India: You can’t enter a kitchen or cook food for anyone else.

  • India: You can’t enter a place of worship.

 

Food-related period myths

  • Italy: While on your period, dough won’t rise.

  • Philippines: While on your period, everything you cook will be a disaster.

  • France: You can’t make mayonnaise, it will curdle.

Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com

These myths are just a few amongst several period myths and they are all untrue. Just like old wives’ tales, these myths have been passed from one generation to another, fueling menstruation-related stigma and discrimination, which are some of the barriers to adequate menstrual hygiene and health (MHH). We cannot let them continue to flourish and influence our lives.

To achieve proper menstrual hygiene and health for all, a lot needs to be done. Organizations like UNFPA, UNICEF, WaterAid, are all working towards achieving this through efforts like provision of period products, safe sanitation and washing facilities, among others. SOGH’s Ekibadha project aims to support women and girls by awareness, improving MHM and making menstruation less of a taboo in Uganda.

We all need to work collectively, through efforts like advocacy, creating awareness, promoting good social behavior towards menstruation and dispelling period myths and taboos. Through these actions, we will be a step closer.

In the spirit of menstrual myth-busting, join us at our interactive Menstrual Hygiene Event, a partnership between the Swedish Organization For Global Health (SOGH) and the Swedish Network For International Health (SNIH), where we discuss more of these myths and learn more. It is going to be a fun quiz during which we will debunk menstruation myths and enlighten you about menstruation. If you learned something reading this article, be rest assured that our event is just the right thing for you. See you on the 28th of May, from 12:30 to 13:15 CEST on Zoom. You don’t want to miss it! Register here!

Any more myths you can think of? What is the state of menstrual health and hygiene in your country? What efforts are being made to improve MHH? Are period products affordable? If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please comment below, or send us an email, and, most of all, don’t forget to attend our event!

Author: Avwerosuoghene Onobrakpeya