Menstruation Still Holds Back Women and Girls

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Last week, UK news reported that the charity Freedom4Girls had discovered school girls in West Yorkshire had no alternative but to stuff toilet paper down their pants to stop themselves from bleeding through their clothes at school. They couldn’t afford sanitary products and some were skipping school as a result. Freedom4Girls is a UK-based organisation that is focused on work in Kenya on this issue. However, since learning about these girls, the Charity has had sent some sample packs to the school and launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for research into the scale of the issue in the UK.

This is a sad and shocking revelation from an advanced economy. After the story made news, the UK’s Education Secretary Justine Greening promised to "look carefully" at the issue, in light of suggestions that tampons and sanitary towels could be given free to British pupils from low-income families. Since then, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for schools to give out free tampons and towels, an initiative that has been adopted by a number of American universities and secondary schools.

Taking immediate action, Bodyform, the famous sanitary protection brand has promised to donate 200,000 packs of sanitary products by 2020 to help thousands of women and girls get access to free period protection. Bodyform will be sending the free sanitary towels to In Kind Direct, which will distribute them to various charitable organisations around the UK.

Menstruation is still holding girls back. The United Nations Children’s Fund says one in 10 African girls skips school during menstruation, while some drop out entirely because they lack access to sanitary products; 83% of girls in Burkina Faso have no place to change their sanitary protection at school. Similar issues affect girls in India, Cambodia and Iran.

Binti, a social enterprise, has a mission to provide sanitary towels to all girls and women, dispel myths and taboos around periods, and to improve empowerment and financial independence for women in emerging economies. Binti works across India and Eastern Africa and is determined to be the organisation that jumpstarts ‘The Sanitary Pad Revolution’ for women, by women, to women. It held a conference on this subject on International Women’s Day

Girls suffer from social exclusion and stigma because of inaccurately held social beliefs about menstruation in some developing countries. For example, they are not allowed to access water fountains because of wrongly held beliefs about menstruation. 

The one problem facing women and girls—whether they are in India, Africa or the UK—is that sanitary products are too expensive for them to buy. As one pupil, from West Yorkshire told BBC Radio Leeds, “I wrapped a sock around my underwear just to stop the bleeding, because I didn't want to get shouted at. I once cello-taped tissue to my underwear. I didn't know what else to do. I didn't get any money because my mum was a single parent and she had five mouths to feed, so there wasn't much leftover money”. 

Photo Credit: Binti