Every year, May 28th marks Menstrual Health and Hygiene Day. The theme for this year is, "More Action and Investment in Ensuring Menstrual Health and Hygiene" Globally, individuals and organizations, welcome this day by highlighting the work and progress they have made towards menstrual equity but also use it as a chance to challenge the state to step up and support their work.
Menstruation in itself is not unhygienic nor is it an issue however it becomes an issue of hygiene when people who menstruate are not given the tools to properly manage their period. Wearing a pad or any form of a pad, leaving a tampon in too long can have adverse effects on the body resulting in infections, this is because trapped moisture breeds bacteria and fungus.
In some parts of the world including Trinidad and Tobago, many persons experience period poverty.
Period poverty is commonly known to be the lack of access to period products to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle but it isn’t just that. Period Poverty is also the lack of education to understand the menstrual cycle, lack of proper health care services and the lack of facilities that allow you to care for yourself during your period.
For some cultures and religions, menstruation is unclean and people who menstruate are not allowed to partake in religious rituals, nor be in places of worship, nor active in the household. In some areas, they are placed in a makeshift shed outside their homes till the bleeding stops.
In others, menstruation is seen as punishment from the god they serve and so there isn’t any more meaning attached to it- It does not mean that an unfertilized egg has died.
More action and investment in ensuring menstrual health and hygiene requires organizations and governments globally to work together to end period poverty. It means reworking and developing a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum that ensures to center sexual and reproductive health and rights, making period products and menstrual health care services easily available and accessible, and nationwide education drives to break the stigma against menstruating.
The implications of not having proper access to menstrual health care is that many persons are forced into isolation and are unable to complete their education, live a quality life because they are unable to work for wages, experience mental health issues and are subjected to violence. Reducing these issues cost money. Governments and funding organisations across the globe must recognise this growing issue and ensure to incorporate a solution moving forward.
Due to the pandemic, unemployment rates have skyrocketed which means that many homes do not have a monthly salary coming in. In Trinidad and Tobago, the government has been able to issue salary relief grants and currently for the month of May as we are now in a state of emergency, ranges from $1000TTD to $1500TTD (for 1 month). There have been food packages created by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services but this does not include period products. Periods don't stop for pandemics. So how are we going to ensure that this part of the population is able to maintain a safe and healthy menstrual cycle?
Menstrual Health Management is Health Care. Governments across the globe must assess the situation of period poverty in their countries and include menstrual equity as part of their recovery plans against COVID-19. We must recognise how very real this issue is. For some, being able to afford period products, see an OB/GYN frequently and be able to access facilities at home to maintain a safe cycle can blind us from the realities of others but we must remember.
A world where period poverty does not exist might seem impossible but it is not. It requires meaningful partnerships and a rights-based approach where we ensure that people are given the tools that maintains their dignity, safety and health.
Menstruating costs money and some of us can't afford it? So who's gonna invest?