Every girls in the world felt ashamed at least once for having a red spot on her skirt/jeans/bikini/beach towel, or in the moment to take a sanitary pad out of the bag in front of her classmates and hide it in the sleeve/jeans pocket till the moment you decide to hide it in a nice and socially acceptable case.
In Italy, we have a lot of different ways to manage the fact that once per month we face hormonal changes, pre-menstrual syndrome, pain and some quantity of blood to be hidden, at any cost – avoiding topics such as menstrual leave or tampon taxes.
In some other parts of the world being a girl and having menstruation, is still an huge invalidating stigma with deep socio-economic consequences.
In Kenya some innovative action has been taken, but still, it’s not that easy for a girl to manage the monthly date with what should be the most natural thing in the world. Here some facts:
- In 2004 Kenya has been the first country in the world that abolished taxation on menstrual hygiene products. Unfortunately, the 65% of Kenyan women cannot afford the monthly cost for sanitary pads.
- The Kenyan Ministry of Education implements the Sanitary Towels Program since 2012, a program that foresees the furniture of free sanitary pads in public schools, but 1 million of teenagers lose till 6 weeks of school per year because of menstruation.
- If each Kenyan girls would finish high school, during her lifetime the country GDP would grow of 46%, but the dropout rate for girls in secondary school is 60%, it doubles boys’ one.
- 45% of teen mothers in Kenya has an unplanned pregnancy and in rural Kenya, 1 out of 4 girls doesn’t associate menstruation with pregnancy;
- Communities perpetuate taboos and misconceptions about menstruation that restrict girls’ mobility and activity, for example, the belief that menstruating women are polluted and can contaminate goats and cows if they enter the pen or milk the animals.
In 1978, the feminist Gloria Steinem wrote a satiric article for Ms Magazine imagining a world where Men could Men-struate. She asked, “What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?”; and the answer she found clear was that “menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: men would brag about how long and how much”.
After 40 years we don’t still have any menstrual equality, women still have to hide their bleeding, and avoid to publicly speak of that. According to a UNICEF and WHO report (2015), 500 millions of women worldwide don’t have the means to manage menstruations. Girls have to quit studying, to feel ashamed for being women, to carry the burden of stigma and to hide while bleeding.
Another fact, according to Euromonitor, in 2015 the global market in this sector reached 30 billion of dollars, though, after the creation of disposable pads, tampons and cups, in the last 50 years no innovation has been introduced. Today some news is popping up such as specific underwear; but still, can you imagine that lack of creativity in other businesses?
In conclusion, menstruation is one of the main human rights linked most ignored topics, yet they affect pretty much everything, from education to economy, from the environment to public health. Can you imagine how our societies could be without all this big curtain existing around menstruation? How many opportunities both for women AND men we’re missing ‘cause of menstruation taboo?