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World Menstrual Hygiene Day: Period poverty and shaming

Young Women
 World Menstrual Hygiene Day: Period poverty and shaming (Photo: iStock)

Just last week I was living my best life, rocking my favourite pair of bright orange trousers and feeling like I could take on the world. Then life decided to throw me a curveball bigger than a rogue bowling pin. A huge red stain, right in the middle of my trousers. Mortification? Absolutely. But as I shuffled (okay, maybe slunk a little) towards the bathroom, another feeling bubbled to the surface - defiance.

There, staring back at me in the mirror, was a woman who, yes, had a period stain. But also a woman who was strong, capable and completely unashamed. Periods are a natural part of being a woman, and hiding them only perpetuates the stigma that's plagued us for far too long. So I did what any self-respecting Kenyan woman in my position would do - I Gloria Orwobad it. Head held high, I walked back out, determined to make those who stared feel uncomfortable. Because guess what? It's their discomfort, not mine, that needs to be addressed.

But this incident ripped the band-aid off a much bigger, more troubling issue. It made me think of the countless Kenyan girls who face a far harsher reality. A reality where a simple period becomes a source of shame and ostracism. Can you imagine the pain and isolation of missing school or social events because you can't afford basic sanitary products? This is 'period poverty'.

The impact of period poverty

The statistics are enough to make your blood boil - according to UNICEF, almost half of Kenyan girls have no access to menstrual hygiene products. This lack of access creates a domino effect that can derail a girl's education and future. Girls miss school and fall behind in their studies. Their opportunities shrink, their confidence plummets and mental health problems can take root. 

Period stigma

Period stigma refers to the negative beliefs and practices that treat menstruation as shameful, dirty or even taboo. The tragic story of a young girl who took her own life because of period shame is a reminder of the devastating impact of this stigma.  

This stigma manifests itself in many ways:

Cultural taboos:  Deeply-rooted cultural beliefs may regard menstruating women as 'unclean', leading to isolation during their periods. These practices may be rooted in historical misconceptions about menstruation and its association with fertility, or in religious beliefs.

Lack of education:  The silence surrounding periods creates an environment of misinformation and fear. Girls experiencing their first period may feel confused and lack essential knowledge about menstrual hygiene and management. This can lead to health risks, increased susceptibility to infection and difficulties in managing their periods.

Social stigma: Snide remarks, that knowing looks and fear of ridicule can lead to feelings of shame and isolation. Phrases like 'you're moody because you're on your period' trivialise the hormonal changes women experience and perpetuate the myth that periods make us irrational.

Normalising periods

Tackling period stigma requires a multi-pronged approach:

Open communication:  Talking openly and honestly about periods is crucial. Let's break the silence, dispel the myths and normalise menstruation as a natural biological process.

Comprehensive education:  Sex education that includes menstrual hygiene management empowers girls with the knowledge they need to manage their periods with confidence and make informed decisions about their health.

Advocating for access:  Supporting organisations that advocate for access to affordable and sustainable menstrual hygiene products for all girls is fundamental to tackling period poverty. Senator Gloria Orwoba has been at the forefront of advocating for access to menstrual hygiene products, it cannot be Menstrual Hygiene Day without mentioning her.

Let's create a world where every girl and woman can own their period, own their stain, and chase their dreams, stain or no stain. Because frankly, we're too fabulous to be held back by anything natural. So go forth and conquer, queens!

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