We all want dignity. But for girls, dignity’s tricky because of the unmentionables. That time of the month. Women troubles. On the rag. Taboo. Unclean. Indelicate. The curse.
One day, I rode my new bike to a 4-H meeting. New summer pants, white. New 10-speed, yellow. New period; red. It sneaked up on me, previous months, I’d suffered days of cramps as my uterus tried to kick-start its molting. I was still new to the curse, and this iterration arrived unannounced. The curse. So longed-for before it arrived, so dreaded after. Hell on wheels. Ironically, peddeling a new bike will help with that; and any other time, this would have been a tremendous joy. But it was out amongst my peers. And girls. Girls can be so mean. I wanted to die. But my embarresing tale, awful as it was, is a first-world problem.
Many women living in poverty use rags, newspaper, or even mud to manage their menstrual periods. None of these work very well and can introduce infections or injuries; they also circumscribe women’s movement. Often, women fear being in public without protection from blood staining.
That’s Betsy Teustch, writing in The Atlantic. I love this story, and it’s part and parcel of women’s bodily integrity. It’s the tlae of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who lives in India. He asked his wife about a pile of ratty rags one day, the ones she uses during her periods. Appalled, he bought her some of the pricey imported sanitary napkins, and curious about them, he took one apart. He entered the taboo mysteries of womanhood, and realized he could build machines to make sanitary napkins, small machines, suitable to launching a cottage indusrty in India, mostly run by women. Like I said, I love this story.
I couldn’t find market numbers I didn’t have to pay for, but just the tampon market in the US is greater than $2.6 billion. There are a lot more women in India then there are in the US; this market is huge; and according to Teutsch, the demand for hygene products increases with health measures including adequate nutrition and contraception; improved diets mean women have more frequent and reliable periods; contraception means they have fewer children later in life. Fully free women have longer times where they are fertile, so they have more periods.
Having your period is bad enough, but having to rely on old newspaper or mud or rags? I hadn’t imagined the impact on a girls life unitl I read this paragraph in Teustch’s story:
An additional driver of sanitary napkin sales is the global campaign for governments and health ministries to provide schoolgirls with free menstrual supplies. The consensus is that this simple intervention helps prevent girls from dropping out of school after menarche.
So Muruganantham’s business opportunity – sanitary napkins — helps girls have opportunity to go to school. Bodily integrity. Like I said, I love this story. There’s an organization, It’s making the unmentionable mentionable. Taboos about women’s bodies are really odd, and it’s absolutely absurd that we toleate them. So I’m delighted that Unicef runs a progarm not only to provide sanitary napkins, but to focus on the need for appropriate restroom facilities, particularly the presence of running water. (From the link in the quote above)
During recent years, there has been growing interest in exploring and addressing the menstrual hygiene management challenges that are faced by schoolgirls through the incorporation of MHM in WASH in Schools programming. Although WinS research, programs and policy are under way in 95 countries around the world, the unique water, sanitation and hygiene needs of students who have started menstruating and of their female teachers have received much less attention.
Among numerous explanations for past neglect of this important issue, a primary reason is likely the taboo nature of menstruation and menstrual hygiene in many societies. Addressing the MHM needs of female students requires paying careful attention to local cultural and social contexts, given the secrecy that surrounds the issue and
also because the topic is often hidden from boys and men, as well as from girls and women in many contexts. Similarities in the menstrual management barriers girls and female teachers face, however, can be identified across school environments in countries globally, which can guide the research, programming and policy in countries seeking to initiate or scale up attention on the issue.
Bodily integrity should not be taboo. Sometimes, we may want young women to be free to participate, but the weight of our cultural taboos blind us to the simple things that open the door to that freedom.