This Menstrual Hygiene Day, WaterAid is encouraging people around the world, whatever their gender or age, to challenge stigma around periods by dropping euphemisms and embracing clearer language and communication around menstruation.
In many parts of the world, a squeamishness around talking about periods holds women and girls back from being able to ask for the facilities and support they need – including decent, private toilets with water and soap available – to deal with their menstruation with dignity and comfort.
Every day, approximately, 800 million women and girls are on their periods, yet one-third of this population don’t have access to a decent toilet to manage their periods safely, hygienically and with dignity. Sadly, the shame and stigma around periods prevents women and girls from engaging in conversations on the importance of toilets in schools and in public places for menstrual hygiene management.
Euphemisms for periods are common in many cultures and are part of the secrecy and shame surrounding the natural bodily function that is a monthly occurrence for around half the world’s population during their lifetime.
In Nigeria, euphemisms like ‘Our monthly friend’, ‘It’s that time of the month’, ‘Women matter’, ‘I am flagging’, ‘It has started’, are ways of avoiding saying the words ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’. While some of the code words or names used for periods may be amusing, others support the notion that menstruation is a taboo and shameful.
Persisting taboos around menstruation, including the belief that a menstruating girl or woman is cursed or possessed by evil spirits, results in the exclusion of women and girls from socio-economic activities. Additionally, inadequate access to clean water, female friendly and inclusive decent toilets as well as good hygiene facilities has further devastating effects on their education, self-esteem and health. These impacts ultimately threaten the overarching aim of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – leave no one behind.
This year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day theme ‘It’s Time for Action’ emphasises the urgency of poor menstrual management as a public health issue and highlights the transformative power of improved menstrual hygiene to empower the world’s women and girls, and unlock their economic and educational opportunities.
WaterAid is calling on government, development partners and key stakeholders to step up commitments and take necessary action to educate more women and girls on safe menstrual hygiene practices; end negative social practices and challenge the stigmas by creating an enabling environment and ensure that women and girls, everywhere have access to hygienic menstrual products including clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene services.
Oluseyi Abdulmalik, WaterAid Nigeria’s Communications & Media Manager, said:
“It is not right that a significant issue like menstruation be shrouded with so much silence and taboo.Sadly, that is the common place in many parts of the country, forcing women and girls to bear the brunt of these persisting practices in the society.
From the experiences shared in our recent study on menstruation across Bauchi, Benue and Plateau states, major contributing factors to poor menstrual hygiene practices include poor knowledge about menstruation, unavailable and unaffordable sanitary materials and a lack of access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene facilities at home, schools, markets and other public spaces.
No woman and girl should live without these basic needs. Poor menstrual hygiene affects their health, livelihoods and education as well as hampers opportunities to make the most of their potential. We are calling on Government and relevant stakeholders to support and facilitate the integration of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in education, health and relevant sectors to enable the provision of inclusive WASH facilities and female friendly toilets in schools, health care facilities and public places for proper period management.”
Menstrual Hygiene Day was started by WASH United in 2014 to build awareness of the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management plays in helping women and girls reach their full potential. Proper menstrual hygiene management for women and girls requires inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools and public places; provision of protection materials at affordable rates; behavioural change and communication and a review of existing policies to address this important issue.