This year’s theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day is making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030. It is evident that even in these times of technological advancement, there is a huge percentage of women and girls who are still discriminated against because of a normal bodily occurrence. I say technological advancement because unlike centuries ago, today it is easier for one to educate themselves on menstruation via the internet. During the old times, women suffered because their periods were looked at with disgust, due to the menstrual products they used. Old rags made of cotton wool, linen or sheep’s wool and even grass, which was very uncomfortable. Today, women use rather comfortable menstrual products such as sanitary pads, tampons and menstrual cups.
The topic on menstruation is one that is still frowned upon due to the shame that has been associated with it for a long time. Some men are so disgusted by it that they end up fainting upon the sight of blood. Others in supermarkets avoid eye contact when asked by female customers, where to find the aisle of menstrual products. To date, I still do not understand why they wrap sanitary pads with old newspapers or darker carrier bags after one buys them. Shame has been heightened in places of work and schools especially when one messes up on themselves as a result of period leakage, mostly caused by heavy flow. Sometimes it is not out of carelessness or lack of proper hygiene that women find themselves in such situations. Instead of laughing at them or socially isolating them, you should help if necessary. This is the kind of shame that ought to be eliminated at all costs and we have seven years to do so.
Most women joke that when they get their period every month, it is a moment to throw a party especially if they were not planning to get pregnant. However, menstruating is too painful for most women due to the ‘side effects’ linked to it.
Some of the things they go through include very painful cramps (dysmenorrhea), food cravings/aversions, nausea with or without vomiting, headaches, diarrhoea, dizziness that may be accompanied with fainting, hot flashes, among others. In spite of the suffering that some females go through, they get very little support, especially in schools. For example, there are girls who have very painful periods to a point that they faint but barely get the medical attention that they so deserve. Instead, they are accused of faking it to avoid attending lessons. In extreme cases, some teachers, both male and female, force them to remove their inner wear to confirm whether they are truly on their periods. In places of work, some jobs are so demanding and that forces women to self-medicate in advance to avoid undergoing the pain that comes with menstruating.
With all these challenges still arising, there is a lot that can be done to eliminate any ounce of stigma. Firstly, I would urge the Ministry of Education to create a mandatory course on menstruation from Grade 3 to high school level. Both boys and girls should learn about menstruation from the basics on what is menstruation to management of the same.
Secondly, the government and NGOs should provide free sanitary pads free to those who cannot afford them. Lastly ensure menstruating women and girls are treated with dignity.
Ms Tanui is a journalist