Keep a Girl in School by... Buying Her Pads?
Emily almost had to drop out of school. This young Kenyan woman was both a widow and a mother. It would be easy to imagine that one of these things caused her to drop out. And yet, neither of them were the reason. The reason that she came so close to never finishing her education was because of . . . her period?
This story is more common than you might think. Around the world, only 12% of women use sanitary pads (Plan). And that fact can be more devastating than you’ve probably ever imagined. Girls like Emily all around the world don’t have access to sanitary napkins, clean toilets, or hygienic ways to take care of their periods. This natural, regular part of a woman’s life can cause them to have to drop out of school, and cause them deep shame and embarrassment.
Around the world, only 12% of women use sanitary pads.
In many developing countries, there are taboos surrounding women’s menstruation. In Nepal, women on their periods are not allowed to touch or eat fruit or vegetables during their menstrual cycles, because it is believed that it will cause the food to rot (The Guardian). They are also not allowed to touch men during their periods, and often cannot attend religious functions. Sometimes, women are banished to a menstrual hut when they are on their periods (Greenhalgh & Doucleff). They have to sleep there, and the huts are often not well constructed or protected. Because of this, many women are afraid of being raped when they have to sleep there. And they have to sleep there several days of every month! Many of these countries have religious myths justifying their beliefs about the danger of menstruation (Greenhalgh & Doucleff). These myths drive the cultural taboos surrounding menstruation, which makes it even harder for women to combat these beliefs.
Because of all of these taboos, menstruation doesn’t really get discussed. One study found that 70% of women in India didn’t have a close family member talk to them about menstruation before it happened (Schechtman). When it did happen for the first time, these poor girls had no idea what was going on. And even after they understand what is happening, taking care of it every month is extremely difficult. Most of these women don’t have access to sanitary pads, so they resort to using other things. Most end up using unsanitary rags, but some even use things like ashes or husk sand (Sinha). Those who use rags don’t always adequately wash them. They also have to let them dry in out of the way places (so that men don’t have to see the rags), which often leads to the rags never drying out properly. And these poor levels of hygiene lead to widespread vaginal and urinary infections among these women (UNICEF).
In Nepal and Afghanistan, 30% of girls miss school when they get their period, and in Sierra Leone, 23% of girls miss school because of their period (Her Turn). The taboos surrounding menstruation and the lack of sanitary pads are definitely part of why this is. But another reason for this is that many of the schools these girls attend don’t have safe and private bathrooms. Right now, in the least developed and most low-income countries, only 45% of schools have adequate toilets (Her Turn). Many of these bathrooms don’t have doors, and don’t have separate bathrooms for men and women. Because these girls don’t have adequate tools and no safe place to take care of menstruation, they just don’t go to school when they’re on their periods. Eventually, many of these girls end up missing so much school that they drop out.
The stories and statistics included in this article span many different countries. This is a huge issue for so many women in developing countries around the world. Getting women to school really matters. Right now, in 26 countries, girls are more likely to get married by their 18th birthday then enroll in secondary school. But a lack of sanitary pads doesn’t have to be one of the reasons that they drop out.
Remember Emily? Thanks to a donor like you, she was provided with sanitary pads. This one, seemingly small thing was what kept her in school. She finished her education, and now wants to go college to study to be a nurse. Emily’s whole life was changed because of that gift.
Because these girls don’t have adequate tools and no safe place to take care of menstruation, they just don’t go to school when they’re on their periods.
All women need access to safe, clean toilets. They need hygienic ways to take care of their period every month. And they need to be able to talk about these things. These are tangible, fixable problems. Women shouldn’t have to miss school because of their periods, something wholly natural and something that doesn’t have to be a big deal. There’s no reason for a woman to feel shame during her period. Giving a girl access to pads can be the reason she stays in school. Giving a girl access to pads can change her life.
Egunyu, Dorah. "A Bleeding Shame: Why Is Menstruation Still Holding Girls Back?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 28 May 2014. Web. <https:// www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/may/28/ menstruation-girls-education-uganda-sanitation>.
Greenhalgh, Jane, and Michaeleen Doucleff. "A Girl Gets Her Period And Is Banished To The Shed: #15Girls." NPR, 17 Dec. 2015. Web. <http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/ 2015/10/17/449176709/horrible-things-happen-to-nepali-girls-when-they- menstruate-15girls>.
"Let's Talk About That Time of the Month." Because I Am A Girl. Plan, 28 May 2015. Web. <http://www.plan-uk.org/news/news-and-features/lets-talk-about-that-time-of-the-month/ >.
"Menstruation and Sanitation in Schools." Her Turn, Web. <http://www.her-turn.org/wp- content/uploads/2014/11/3-infographic-toilet.png>.
Mis, Magdalena. "How Do We Keep Girls in School." World Economics Forum, 19 Oct. 2015. Web. <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/10/how-do-we-keep-girls-in-school-2/>.
Schechtman, Lisa. "Why Tackling the Stigma around Menstruation Is Key to Gender Equality." World Economics Forum, 29 May 2015. Web. <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/ 2015/05/why-tackling-the-stigma-around-menstruation-is-key-to-gender-equality/>.
Seymour, Kathryn. "Bangladesh: Tackling Menstrual Hygiene Taboos.” UNICEF, 2008. Web. <http://www.unicef.org/wash/files/10_case_study_BANGLADESH_4web.pdf>
Sinha, Kounteya. "70% Can't Afford Sanitary Napkins, Reveals Study - Times of India." The Times of India. 23 Jan. 2011. Web. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/70-cant- afford-sanitary-napkins-reveals-study/articleshow/7344998.cms>.
"'When I Have My Period I'm Not Allowed to … ': Girls in Nepal Share Their Photo Diaries – in Pictures." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 28 May 2016. Web. <https:// www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/may/28/ menstruation-girls-education-uganda-sanitation>.