Sunday, January 29, 2017

Let’s Talk (Period)

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By: Emery R.

            In order to have a frank and open discussion with someone, you can’t beat around the bush; you have to be blunt and direct. So, I’m just going to go ahead and say it,
“We need to talk about periods.”
Or more specifically, we need to talk about periods or menstruation in developing countries.
            As American women there are certain things that many of us tend to take for granted, one of them being our access to feminine hygiene products. If you go to the nearest Target, it is 100% guaranteed that there will be an aisle containing pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and virtually everything you need for that time of the month. There are apps that you can download onto your smartphone that allow you to track your cycle, and send you that oh-so-cheery notification,
“You have one day remaining before your next expected period.”
However, in lesser developed countries, particularly in rural areas, a lot of women and girls don’t have access to the bright boxes of feminine hygiene products that are crammed onto the shelves of pharmacies and retail stores here in the U.S. Instead of pads and tampons, many females use materials like old rags, mattress padding, and even tree bark. Whatever is available, and whatever works. These items can be dirty, they generally contain bacteria, and they are also very irritating to the skin. They can be exceedingly harmful to a woman’s genital area, causing infections that fall on the spectrum of mild to serious.
Besides physical harm, using such materials can also cause great embarrassment. Because they are extremely absorbent, using items like corn husks and newspaper often results in leakage onto furniture and clothing. In countries where menstruation is highly stigmatized, women and girls are harassed when this happens. For example, sometimes school girls are  teased by classmates and even teachers for staining their uniforms.  In lesser developed countries, many girls miss school for a few days every month because of their periods. In Ethiopia, this applies to about 50% of all schoolgirls. Girls who miss that much school each year often drop out. In fact, 10% of African girls will quit school because of problems related to menstruation.
When girls quit school, they miss crucial opportunities. However, the disadvantage isn’t just limited to them; their countries miss out as well. Investing in women and girls garners a huge return. For example, when 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases an average of 3%. I believe that we need to keep girls in school. We need to de-stigmatize menstruation for the good of every woman and every girl in lesser developed countries, so that they can “rise up,” as that Hamilton song goes.
So, what progress is being made?
Well, world leaders are finally realizing how important it is to talk about menstruation. They are trying to establish an open dialogue in order to gain better insight into this problem. Additionally, numerous non-governmental organizations are raising money to send feminine hygiene items and reproductive education teachers to the more peripheral areas of the developing world. These NGOs are also trying to get men to join the discussion on menstruation. The reality is that most girls live in a patriarchal society, and so we need some men in our corner if we want to truly solve this problem.
In addition to global dialogue and getting men involved, many innovative ideas, products, and technologies have been brought to lesser-developed countries in an effort to provide safe, convenient, and reusable alternatives to the more rudimentary materials women and girls are using during their periods. In Rwanda, a company called Sustainable Health Enterprises is teaching women to make pads out of banana trunk fibers. A company called BeGirl makes reusable underwear with a mesh pocket that can be filled with any available absorbent material. In India, women’s self help groups buy machines that allow them to make 200-250 pads per day.
You might be wondering, “If I’m not the founder of a non-profit organization, or the owner of a successful socially responsible company, what can I do to help?” No worries, most of us are in the same boat.
You can help by doing your best not to stigmatize menstruation. Don’t make it out to be something scary or overly terrible, just talk about it as calmly and clearly as possible. Also, if the opportunity comes up, take the chance to educate and include boys in the menstruation discussion. You don’t need to give them all of the gory details, but making it a “secret girl thing” creates stigma, and excludes males from a conversation in which their help, alliance, and input is potentially valuable. Communication is key. As a wise person once said, you can’t accomplish anything without it.
            If you wan to learn more, you can check out some of the articles that I read while researching this article. They are below.

"10 Reasons to Invest in Women and Girls." Share America. Share America, 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

Aizenman, Nurith. "People Are Finally Talking About The Thing Nobody Wants To Talk  About." NPR. NPR, 16 June 2015. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

Mackey, Patricia. "Talking Menstrual Hygiene in Developing Countries." Borgen
            Magazine. The Borgen Project, 1 June 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

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