In many countries we work in, accurate information about periods is hard to come by. Periods can be so shrouded in secrecy that it’s difficult to know who to turn to for support, or what to believe. What girls do know is often a combination of facts, myths, misinformation and stereotypes.
We believe that every girl should be in control of her body, and that trustworthy information is key to this. Otherwise, a girl’s health, wellbeing and even education could be in jeopardy.
We have a problem, period
Despite roughly 800 million girls and women menstruating everyday (World Bank 2020), millions are still unable to practice good menstrual hygiene management (MHM). That includes half the global school population.
Information about periods is an essential part of MHM – the practice of making sure girls and women understand their bodies and can manage their periods with confidence and dignity. It helps a girl take charge of her health and helps destigmatise much needed conversations about accessing period products.
Without effective period management, a girl could be at higher risk of infection. If she’s unprepared for her body’s changes and doesn’t know about the products available to her, she’s also much more likely to skip school and stay at home during her period. Research by Plan International UK has found that 49% of girls in the UK have missed an entire day of school because of their period, but there is little available data about the scale of the problem worldwide.
Breaking the bloody taboo
Brilliant work is being done to break taboos about periods across the world. Mobile app Clue is using social media like TikTok to bust myths and share information about periods with young people, charity Bloody Good Period is fighting for people in the UK to access menstrual products and books published by the nonprofit Grow & Know are helping young people in Ethiopia understand puberty.
But there is more to do.
We believe every girl has the right to understand the changes their bodies are going through during their period. Through our media content, we give girls judgement-free, factual content that helps prepare them for their periods and access menstrual hygiene products when they need it.
In Rwanda, we’ve heard from girls that they often think they are dying when their period starts. Every week our Agony Aunt “Baza Shangazi” answers girls questions about sex, puberty and relationships via our radio show and magazine. As a trusted figure, Shangazi receives around 300 anonymous questions every week via SMS. She helps girls decipher fact from fiction so they can make informed decisions about their period, in a safe space. Girls ask questions they often can’t ask anyone else, like: “If a girl gets her period when she is at school what can she do?”
In Ethiopia, we challenge negative norms around girls and menstruation. In a scene from our Yegna TV drama, one of the main characters – teenager, Hana – is teased for having a period stain on her skirt. The drama follows Hana and her peers as they discuss period stigma and Hana goes on to develop an initiative that provides free sanitary pads and information about periods to all the girls in her school. Hana’s journey shows how others can advocate for their menstrual needs.
And in Tanzania, we help girls navigate friendship and learn about sexual health through the lives of three teenagers in our radio drama. In one storyline, we meet a character who’s suffering from a painful period with ongoing cramps and heavy flow. By openly talking about menstruation, she takes an essential step to breaking the taboo.
In order to have effective menstrual hygiene management, girls need to know that they have the right to information and the right to make decisions about their period. Talking about periods normalises them, and is the first step to advocating for change.
When was the last time you talked about menstruation to your friend, colleague or loved one? This Menstrual Hygiene Day, will you take the step and join us in the global conversation?