After reading Lindy West's "Are you there, Margaret, It's Me a Person Who is Not a Complete Freak," think about when you first experienced menarche (first period). What was that experience like for you? Was it something that was or secretive? Did you feel shame, pride, fear? How did others around you, like family, act? How does the way in which we, as a society, treat menarche a reflection of how we address issues relating to reproductive health, sexuality, and human rights?
I remember my first period well - like I imagine most of us who menstruate do - I was an early bloomer so it was particularly shocking. It wasn’t the exciting or beautiful thing that they make it out to be in videos on puberty or tampon commercials, rather it was accompanied by a sense of dread. I wasn’t surprised by it, my mom is a nurse and was sure to educate me about puberty and menstruation before any of it happened, I was never afraid to talk to her about these things. Despite this my period still felt shameful and isolating. I hadn’t really considered why I had these feelings about what is a normal bodily function until recently. Lindy West puts it well in her essay Are You There, Margaret? It’s Me A Person Who Is Not A Complete Freak, “The truth is, my discomfort with my period didn’t have anything to do with the thing itself… it was just part of the lifelong, pervasive, alienation from my body that every woman absorbs to some extent”. Logically I knew that what was happening was perfectly normal, it meant I was healthy and growing up, but if that was the case why was I supposed to hide it like I had a shameful secret? Even now I feel embarrassed to write this let alone share it! I wonder, if it weren’t something that affected only one half of the population, would it be treated as a either a secret, a punchline at womxn’s expense? Would sanitary products be treated as a luxury? Would the very real pain that many womxn experience when they menstruate be taken seriously?
Explain what is meant by the term "period poverty" and how it impacts EVERYONE but especially young girls' development, self-esteem, and independence. Give at least 2 examples. Then, search and find two organizations working to combat "period poverty". Who are these organizations and what strategies are they using to combat period poverty?
According to Global Citizen, period poverty is, “the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management” (Sanchez and Rodriguez). While this seems like a simple issue with a simple solution, it’s much more complicated. Many women and girls in developing countries are unable to access any sanitary products or if they are, they have nowhere to safely dispose of them. Without these products, they are unable to attend school which studies have shown increases girl’s likelihood of early marriage, early pregnancy, poor nutrition, domestic violence, and poverty (Global Citizen). In addition to being unable to attend school, lack of access to sanitary products and hygiene, the likelihood of health issues such as UTIs increase. This is an issue that impacts everyone not just girls because it limits their potential to fully participate in society. According to WomenDeliver.org, countries with better gender equity have higher GDPs, economic growth, and productivity. When people are educated on menstruation and girls have access to menstrual products, the issue becomes less stigmatized and everyone benefits.
There are many organizations working to solve these issues, two that I found are MINA and WASH United. MINA is an organization working to provide menstrual cups to women and girls, a more eco-friendly option than tampons or pads, and one that lessens the need for disposal of sanitary products. WASH United works on many issues related to period poverty, but most recently worked with Human Rights Watch to release a guide on menstrual hygiene and human rights. Both of these organizations are doing vital work, MINA by providing practical solutions now and WASH by providing education and guidance on a larger scale.
By Claire Budge
Sanchez, E., & Rodriguez, L. (n.d.). Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved February 2, 2020, from https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-poverty-everything-you-need-to-know/
West, L. (2017). Shrill. New York: Hachette Books.
Williams, H. (n.d.). These South African Women Are Using Menstruation Cups to Change the World. Retrieved February 2, 2020, from https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/mina-cup-foundation-south-africa-period-poverty/
Women Deliver. (n.d.). Invest in Girls and Women: The Ripple Effect. Retrieved February 2, 2020, from https://womendeliver.org/publications/invest-girls-women-ripple-effect/