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We need menstrual health to end period poverty

While menstruation is a normal and healthy part of life for most women and girls, in many societies, the experience of menstruators continues to be constrained by cultural taboos and discriminatory social norms. Picture: Freepik

While menstruation is a normal and healthy part of life for most women and girls, in many societies, the experience of menstruators continues to be constrained by cultural taboos and discriminatory social norms. Picture: Freepik

Published Aug 3, 2022

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It's easy to hate your body for something so natural because you don’t understand it. Period talk is not a woman's responsibility.

“You’ve probably heard a lot about menstruation, but you probably don’t know what it is, what the basics are. We are just going to start off with the fundamental basics of why you menstruate and what is menstruation”- ‘Flow the book about menstruation’.

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While menstruation is a normal and healthy part of life for most women and girls, in many societies, the experience of menstruators continues to be constrained by cultural taboos and discriminatory social norms.

Candice Chirwa is a South African menstruation activist, speaker, and academic who is working to de-stigmatise menstruation while also advocating for an end to period poverty in the country.

“We need to change the language where menstruation is concerned. Already the assumption is that menstruation is just a woman and girl's issue, and that in itself is exclusionary” said Chirwa.

Because there are people that menstruate who don't identify themselves as women and girls, and there are transgender people who do menstruate, so it is important that we remove the language that menstruation is a women and girls issue because it then places a priority as a human rights issue.

Period poverty is an issue that deserves national and international priority and solving but beyond that, think of the language we use in describing menstruation.

Even as a product, people would say sanitary towels or feminine hygiene and that on its own implies that something needs to be cleaned and that something is dirty.

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Blossom Care Solution is a programme from Tembisa that has employed several young women. Care sources material and machines from India for the manufacture of 100% compost-able sanitary pads. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha African News Agency(ANA)

“We need to get rid of the negative perception that menstruation is a dirty thing, and we really need to get away from giving something so natural a negative connotation. There's nothing negative or dirty about periods,” added Chirwa.

We look at menstrual health as infrastructure and education. It's a holistic way from a political perspective to unpack it, like what a menstruator requires during that time of the month, so that their period isn’t a daily obstacle from any socio-economic activities, be it school or work.

Menstrual health from an individual perspective is: what do you require outside of just period products, be it a pad, tampon, or a menstrual cup or period underwear, asks Chirwa who is also known as the Minister of Menstruation.

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It's crucial that policymakers recognise the lack of infrastructure (such as a trash can, a sink, and a flushing toilet) that allows menstruators to manage their periods with dignity and care.

They have yet to witness the bullying stigma that menstruators face when they stain their clothes. So with menstruation, you need people who are open-minded and understand that even if they do not menstruate, they must be conscious and sensitive to that.

While we acknowledge why condoms are free, we went through an HIV and Aids epidemic as a country but now what we’re saying is, that if the state has the necessary infrastructure to supply free condoms, then its possible to make this a reality, especially in public institutions like schools, such as pad dispensers, local period manufactured products.

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"What we're calling for, as activists, is that these things shouldn't be this expensive, that we should have access to them because it's a human function, that it shouldn't be as expensive, especially for those who come from low-income households. Something as simple as having access to pads remains a challenge for many young people around the world,“ she emphasized.

With that language removed, we can then go to the actual education and awareness building.

That’s where Qrate steps in. The initiative do menstruation workshops which are inclusive to the boy child and girl child.

How people have different menstrual experiences and being heavy on the fact that everyone who is a menstruator deserves dignity and care to menstruate. Which includes how you treat the menstruator and how you speak about or to the menstruator is really important.

They provide menstrual workshops on an awareness level with boys so that they know that they are future menstruation partners.

They are menstrual allies, future dads, future colleagues in the work place with menstruators. They have to know how to respond appropriately and not respond in an inappropriate manner or malicious way.

“The education that children are receiving is abstinent-based education - don’t have sex, you will fall pregnant. There are a lot of consequences to that.

“Rather have comprehensive sex education, affirm empower and engage with the participants in this conversation and allow them to be part of the conversion around issues that affect them directly because at the end of the day, puberty, sex and menstruation are inevitable things. It's part of growing up,” concluded Chirwa.

There’s fear that needs to be removed.

Teachers and parents need to be equipped with the right form of training and content to educate children .

Simply having a conversation with your boyfriend about periods and challenging the narrative why periods are seen in such a negative light or something as a simple act of just leaving a box of pads or tampons in the office bathroom is a step in the right direction .

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.

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