Periods should be the most normal thing ever. Women make up 50% of the world’s population and for most of them, menstruation is a monthly occurrence. The average woman menstruates for 3,000 days during her lifetime.
But menstruation is still considered unspeakable, especially for millions of women in developing nations. Adolescent girls struggle to understand what’s happening to their bodies when they have their first period, with some even fearing death, and every day women and girls face stigma and taboos around menstruation. Some young girls may not even know what’s happening when they have their first period and they’re too frightened to tell anyone.
In communities in India, women and girls are not allowed to enter the kitchen or cook food during their period as some people believe it will cause food to go bad or rot.
We want to stop this and make periods normal. Plan International is working in communities across Asia and Africa to ensure young girls are educated on how to manage their menstrual hygiene. Why? Because menstruation matters. Period.
Take a look at the infographic below, it shows the stigma girls and women face every day just for having a period.
“No more jokes with boys, you are a grown up now,” said Marie’s mother, upon hearing her daughter had got her first period.
Marie, 15, has just fled from Burundi to Rwanda to escape political turmoil. She says: “When I got my period, I was offered no explanation. No one told me what to wear or how to cope with the bleeding.”
Unfortunately, menstruation is still surrounded by many taboos and myths in Burundi – and it’s a topic that’s only discussed behind closed doors.
Plan International Rwanda has been holding sessions in a centre, currently home to over 4,000 refugees, educating young girls on the issue of sexual exploitation, as well as providing a safe space to discuss the myths surrounding menstruation.
One young girl said she is afraid to tell her mother about menstruation, in case she “laughs” at her. Others say taking a bath near to any kind of utensil at home is prohibited, as drops of blood could kill family members.
Many girls also confided that they are told to stay away from men during menstruation, otherwise it will be seen in their face. Another girl said she was told to place blood on her breasts to stop them from falling.
As for Marie, she says: “When you start your period, you become more beautiful. You get softer skin and you gain weight. Plus, the first time a girl has sexual intercourse, it will be less painful.”
Menstruation has also been difficult to deal with for women and girls currently seeking refuge in the camp. According to Euphrasie, 46, from Burundi: “Most of us came in the clothes we are wearing. Crossing borders to flee a country is prohibited, so if we came with more clothes it would have raised suspicions. That’s why many of us only have one pair of knickers and no sanitary pads.”
Plan International Rwanda is currently distributing sanitary pads and underwear to refugees to help them manage their menstruation.