Bibi van der Zee and Katherine Purvis For the Guardian “We don't know enough about menstruation and girls are paying a price”

A report by Bibi van der Zee and Katherine Purvis For the Guardian looks at recent research on menstruation, and the impacts of menstrual hygiene on the lives of young girls and women in low-income countries. Menstrual cups are playing an important role in improving the options available.

The research, and the Guardian story, highlights the role of shame and taboos, and the challenges that menstruation brings to many women and girls in terms of access to schooling and also their day-to-day experiences. One study in Kenya found that one in ten 15 year olds have sex with men in order to get hold of money for sanitary pads. 

“When we did our study in Kenya, one in ten of the 15 year old girls told us that they had engaged in sex in order to get money to buy pads. These girls have no money, no power. This is just their only option.”
— Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard.

The story had many grim observations. In some cultures, for example, the onset of menstruation is taken as a sign of sexual activity, and one girl describes being beaten by her father for her assumed promiscuity when he discovered her washing her period-stained underwear.

But the article also reports on the new generation of researchers and activists. As the Guardian reports, the importance of menstruation and menstrual hygiene has come out of the shadows over the last decade or so – in large part because of the work of activists and NGOs. Menstrual cups are a significant part of this, as one of several sustainable, affordable options offered to women and girls by a range of NGOs, activists and companies. For example the report describes a program by Camilla Wirseen, The Cup (www.thecup.org).  

“Camilla Wirseen runs a campaign to raise awareness of the menstrual cup which includes training sessions for young girls where they can ask any question they want, and talk about sexual experiences as well as menstruation in a safe environment. Although it takes a little getting used to, the cup has the significant advantage of not having to be replaced every month, unlike tampax or sanitary pads (and also not blocking up delicate drainage systems).”
— Bibi van der Zee and Katherine Purvis for The Guardian

The stigma of menstruation expresses and compounds the marginalization of women. The Guardian report argues that the recent rise of interest in menstrual hygiene has come from listening to marginalized women and girls.   

“The rise of menstrual hygiene management as an issue has come from an increasing recognition of the need to enable marginalised women and girls to speak rather than to assume we know their needs. Alongside the recognition of women as people comes the need to listen to their voices. It turns out one of the things they want to talk about is menstruation”.
— Emily Wilson, director of Irise International.
A report in the Guardian on the importance of menstrual hygiene options for women and girls in lower-income countries. Also the work by NGOs and activist programs. 

A report in the Guardian on the importance of menstrual hygiene options for women and girls in lower-income countries. Also the work by NGOs and activist programs.