We must do better on Menstrual Hygiene

I want to see all barriers to girls’ success removed to enable all young women to achieve her fullest potential and live her life with #nomorelimits - Ana Maria Mideros, WAGGGS World Board Chair

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No girl should be driven out of her home when her period arrives. She should never be treated as dirty or forced to miss a week of school because she can’t afford sanitary supplies. 

The  World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is the voice of 10 million girls in 150 countries. This Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May) WAGGGS wants to reduce barriers facing girls and young women so they can live with #nomorelimits. 

This month WAGGGS and UNICEF  asked three simple questions through a U-Report poll, a global poll sent to young people through social media. 

We wanted to know if schools and workplaces provided products and facilities to help manage periods. From over 5360 responses 48 per cent of girls said no.

This creates a monthly barrier for girls and young women. It tells them their basic health care needs don’t matter.

As WAGGGS World Board Chair I am calling on all schools and work places to provide hygienic bathrooms for girls, with clean water and private stalls with lockable doors for privacy and dignity. 

WAGGGS wants schools to support girls to access their basic right of education by providing menstrual products. Young women should not be affected by period poverty and forced to skip classes. They shouldn´t feel fear, shame or teasing from school mates.

We asked girls about the attitudes towards periods in their communities. Over 35 per cent said there was a belief girls shouldn’t swim or play sport on their periods, 29 per cent said girls felt pressure to hide products and 24 per cent  said periods shouldn’t be discussed around men. But worst of all 11 per cent said periods were a complete taboo. 

As part of the survey we asked girls what changes they thought could improve attitudes around menstruation. Challenging shame, investing in women’s health services and providing sanitary products were neck-and-neck as the top three. 

UNICEF´s director of global innovation Cynthia McCaffrey said U-Report reaches five million young people in 41 countries. “Forty per cent of girls and young women on the platform regularly highlight issues and receive information about menstrual hygiene.” “U-Report helps to bridge the gap between research and practice by bringing together the voices of girls who want to take real action and break the silence around menstruation," she said.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is also about celebrating the success of girls and young women, working to empower others. 

Like Nepalese Girl Scout Nirmala Shrestha. She distributes useable supplies and information around the remote Sindhupalchok District. The remote hilly area in central Nepal backs onto China and was badly affected by the country’s recent earthquakes. 

She said there was local mythology which dictated the way women and girls were treated when menstruating. “Girl’s aren’t allowed in the kitchen. They are not allowed to touch any fruit or plants.” Not being allowed to step into a kitchen meant many did not eat properly. They might even be expected to sleep alone, often outside their homes, until they finished bleeding. 

She said many in rural villages, particularly schoolgirls and poor women, lacked proper toilet facilities and sanitary items. 

For many Ugandan girls their periods arrive as a complete surprise, without any knowledge or supplies. There is also a stigma around menstrual blood being bad, poor bathroom facilities and many use unhygienic methods of capturing blood.

But Girl Guides, involved with a project called YESS-Girls provide information and easy ways to make reusable pads. So far they have reached 1860 girls, 200 boys and 10 teachers. 

I am inspired by the amazing work of girls to improve the lives of other young women in their communities. But we must do more. All communities, schools and work places must create cultures where there is no shame around menstruation, where girls and young women can participate fully, in all aspects of work and school life.

I want to see all barriers to girls’ success removed to enable all young women to achieve her fullest potential and live her life with #nomorelimits.

- Ana Maria Mideros, WAGGGS World Board Chair 

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