I Think I Am Going To Wear Red Today

By Maya Shine for PhotoBook

Let’s say it’s a Tuesday morning. You wake up, head to the bathroom and discover you have just gotten your monthly visitor, your period. It may be a bit annoying, but no biggie, you just grab a tampon/pad, continue your morning routine, and head to work. Maybe you have run out of tampons and need to head to the store to pick some up, and maybe you receive a few comments from your co-workers mocking you with the classic, “oh, it’s that time of the month.” But nonetheless, you continue your day.

However, this is not the reality for millions of girls around the world. Why? Well, most girls/women cannot continue their day normally, due to the price of sanitary products, they face major discrimination and stigmas as a result of taboos that still occur in the 21st century, that make them too ashamed to go to school, or they do not have access to adequate hygiene facilities. As a result, a 2016 UNESCO study across Sub Saharan African estimated that one in ten girls miss school during menstruation. This means that around 2 million girl misses 20% of school days per year just because of their period. 

Before we dive deeper into this issue, let’s look at some taboos countries have about periods. 

  • China: Less than 2% of women use tampons due to a belief by men and elders that they are no longer a virgin, since using one may tear your hymen. 
  • India: Many women in India aren’t allowed to be in the kitchen, or attend ritual practices, as it is believed that getting your period is unnatural, and you are labelled “dirty” during this time. 
  • Nepal: Until recently banned, there was a practice called “Chhaupadi”, which entails that during a girl’s time of the month she is banished from her house and has to menstruate outside her home. This is due to similar beliefs like those in India, where people claim that a girl becomes “impure” during this time. In 2016, only after a girl died in a hut she was banished to, did the country stop this practice from taking place. 

And these taboos are taking place in various other places in the world, including Venezuela, Ghana, Kenya, and many more third world countries. These taboos are ridiculous and crazy, since breaking your hymen does not mean that you are not a virgin, and having your period does not make you “dirty”, or “impure”. 

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

What all of this means for girls and women – a global problem:

Think about it. If girls are missing 20% of school each year, (just due to periods alone and not including other factors, such as falling sick or other unforeseen issues) then they automatically fall behind on their school curriculum, and are less likely to succeed as well as boys. This results in a sombre spiral. An impaired education means these women are only suitable candidates for low-skilled labor, resulting in low wages, and often end up living in poverty. This creates numerous social, economic, and political problems. The social problems arise from the fact that living in poverty means that one cannot receive access to educational/medical services, leading to a population with a low literacy rate and high mortality rate due to diseases and illnesses. Consequently, the economy is dampened by having a low-skilled labor force, leading to less opportunities to improve their standard of living. Politically, these countries look undesirable to investors, and for tourists to travel to and spend their money in these economies. 

This is not just a third world problem. In the UK, it is estimated that over 135,000 girls missed school last year as they weren’t able to afford sanitary products! In the US, it was found that 1 in 5 girls report having missed school due to a lack of adequate sanitary products. 

Can you see how big and serious this issue is?

Why should something be done about this? 

It’s simple. It’s a human right.

Equal education is a fundamental human right and is set as a base for all other human rights. Providing girls with adequate facilities to manage their menstruation and appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights allows for a better chance for success in life. 

Similar rights include: The right to water and sanitation, the right to health, and the right to non-discrimination and gender equality. All of the above rights are being violated in so many countries, and this is just not okay! 

Photo by Adrianna Van Groningen on Unsplash

Moving forward

In order to live in an equitable society, the world needs to wake up and realize that half of the population menstruates. Governments need to set up laws and policies to take this information into account, so that girls can go to school on their periods, and not feel ashamed to be open about it. 

  1. Sanitary products should be tax-exempt. 

Why are tampons taxed and Viagra is not? These products are not luxury goods, contrary to many governmental bodies’ beliefs. Thanks to the pressure and support of organizations fighting for menstruation equity, countries like South Africa and India have taken away the 15 and 12% tax on these goods respectively. The EU has also stated that countries can decided independently whether they want to keep the 17-25% tax on sanitary products.

2. An increase in educational resources. 

In order for girls to understand what having your period means, and how to stay hygienic, there needs to be institutions and facilities for girls to get properly educated on the manner.  Boys should also be encouraged to go to these facilities to learn about periods in order to break stigmas and discrimination. 

3. Free sanitary products in public facilities. 

The government should provide free sanitary products in public bathrooms and schools. If toilet paper can be provided, so can sanitary products. 

A ground-breaking study by the School of Oriental and African Studies proved that providing education about puberty and free sanitary products increased girl’s attendance by 17%. 

Photo by Gabrielle Rocha Rios on Unsplash

What you can do: 

  • My school used to set up a sanitary drive every few months, where the class that brought in the most sanitary pads won a price
  • There are powerful organizations that you can support to help fight this problem, one organization that is close to my heart is, “My Period Is Awesome”. The organization gathers local organizations from across the world and showcases their work to inspire others. My father makes jewelry with charms such as a tampon, or a menstrual cup, which the company sells to raise money to provide children with reusable sanitary pads. 
  • Teach your children/friends/family about the problem.

A period should end a sentence – not a girl’s education!  – Melissa Berton, Director of ‘Period. End of a sentence.’ 

Photo by Sharon Christina Rørvik on Unsplash

This post was originally published on PhotoBook and republished here with permission. PhotoBook, an online magazine based in Brooklyn (New York), monitors what is happening in the creative world (referring to emerging and upcoming artists, a group that includes photographers, fashion designers, illustrators, videographers, painters, and other creative talents). The goal is to integrate the creative world with a supportive and healthy environment, embrace positive well-being and sustainable fashion, and support social conscious change. Instead of focusing on the big-name individuals, brands, and companies, PhotoBook addresses individuals and emerging brands and companies benefiting from broader recognition.

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