Ms Nancy Muller, Senior Program Officer, Devices and Tools Program delivering her TED Talk on issue.
New Delhi: At the recently held Women Deliver 2016 conference in Copenhagen on May 16–19, the women from various nations gathered to voice their opinions on the issues concerning women health. It explored critical factors of what it takes to make maternal and new-born health innovations actionable, and to successfully and sustainably scale them to save the lives of women and children. Women Deliver is one of the world’s largest gatherings of policymakers, advocates, and researchers focused exclusively on women’s health and empowerment.
One of the interesting booths at the conference was that of PATH which displayed “She’s Just Getting Started”, a creative suite of materials to initiate a dialogue on the need for effective menstrual care products for girls and women and approaches to improve menstrual health.
“Imagine that you’re a woman experiencing a menstrual cycle with no privacy to manage it, no one to talk to, and no clean materials to manage your period with dignity, asks Nancy Muller who is the Senior Program Officer at PATH.
“In South Africa, and in many poor countries around the world, menstruation is rarely talked about, and can be a source of stress and embarrassment, as well as pose a safety risk for girls and women. In addition to the roughly 2.4 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation, and the nearly 1 billion who must defecate in the open, there is a need to call attention to the often taboo topic of menstruation, adds Nancy whose organization was one of the major sponsor of the conference.
Cultural Taboo: The culture of silence around mensuration creates barriers to open discussion and support.
Fear and Isolation: Without education from the parents and teachers, girls often begin menarche in isolation, without any understanding of what is happening to their bodies.
Limited Resources: In many low-resource settings, this culture of silence is compounded by limited resources to help manage their periods.
In many low-resource settings, women must be resourceful and use recycled or old cloth as the primary tool for period management, though women and girls have also been known to use mattress stuffing, old rags, sheets of school workbooks, even dried leaves and ash. In few parts of India, girls are forbidden to touch food or sleep in the house when they’re menstruating. Lack of sanitation facilities can put girls at risk when needing to manage menstruation in the open. As a result, girls miss out on a host of opportunities, limiting their participation in their own development and that of their communities too.
Availability of sanitation facilities and disposal systems for menstrual care products are severely lacking in many developing countries. These factors along with a need to manage pain from menstrual cramps, a lack of access to menstrual care products, or infections related to poor hygiene may contribute to school absenteeism and dropout rates. According to one report in Uganda, girls in rural parts of the country miss up to eight days of school each term because of their periods.
These challenges exacerbate the already difficult circumstances surrounding menstruation. And the implications are more than just personal. Disposable pads can block city sewer systems and the social, cultural, and physical constraints menstrual health creates for poor women and girls perpetuate their second-class status in society. The result is a culture of silence that forces many to cope in isolation.
Insufficient attention to the menstrual care within gender and reproductive health education, lack of access to affordable and appropriate menstrual care products, and absence of sanitation and waste disposal systems limit women’s potential and perpetuate gender inequalities. Poor menstrual health exacts a tremendous human and financial toll. A growing body of global research links mensuration with school absenteeism, limited mobility, and lost workplace productivity.
A growing global movement to address the gaps
PATH, an international non-profit organization is working on sanitation solutions that allow women to manage menstruation safely and with dignity. Its representatives also take part in numerous events to discuss integrated approach to enhancing health equity, and talk about global efforts to improve women’s health across the lifecycle. For nearly 40 years, PATH has created innovative health solutions that transform health at every stage of a woman’s life—from improving sexual and reproductive health, to ensuring safe births, to preventing and treating women’s cancers and other chronic diseases.
With increased support, these efforts have the potential to unlock tremendous health and opportunity for girls, women and communities around the globe. Recognizing these costs, leaders, experts and communities worldwide are joining a growing movement to address and improve menstrual health.