The NGO Plan International warns that one in five girls and women around the world do not have access to menstrual products or adequate sanitary facilities, due to the International Menstrual Hygiene Day, which is celebrated on May 28.
In addition, the organization warns that, for millions of girls and women in the world, Menstruation is still “a taboo subject” to the point that in many communities women are prohibited from visiting places of worship, eating certain foods or cooking while menstruating. They also cannot bathe, do housework, or interact with boys and men.
“I had my first period at the age of ten and I didn’t know what it was. My parents sent me to live in a cabin five minutes from my house. They gave me pieces of my mother’s old sari to wear, but I had no idea how to do it, so I got blood all over it,” she tells Plan International, Swastika, an 18-year-old Nepali girl.
According to Plan International’s ‘A Bloody Serious Matter’ research, in Uganda and Indonesia half of adolescent girls do not go to school when they are menstruating, missing up to 24 days of school a year. The reasons vary: there are girls who are not allowed to leave the house, the schools do not have clean or private places where they can change and most do not have sanitary products.
In addition, the NGO warns that many of them they are forced to use unsanitary products such as old newspapers, rags, dirt, sand or leavessomething that can cause serious infections, according to Plan International.
Added to this is the fact that in low-income countries, sanitary products are considered “luxury items”. For example, in El Salvador, a package of 10 pads costs almost 3 euros, the same as a kilo of rice.
The NGO also warns that these challenges multiply during emergencies, since access to sanitary products and cleaning facilities becomes even more limited. Thus, Plan International gives the example of Haiti, where widespread hunger and escalating gang violence are having “devastating effects on girls, who often face dangerous displacements to access clean water to control their periods.” .
Although the organization specifies that menstruation is not limited only to girls and women from low-income countries, it warns that in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom, among others, there are quite a few girls and women who cannot afford menstrual products they need and, moreover, do not experience a safe environment to talk about their menstruation.
“One day I had to leave work because I had my period and I couldn’t even stand up. I knew it meant losing money, but I couldn’t do anything else,” Sukey, a 19-year-old Londoner, told Plan International.
In this context, the NGO has spent years providing information to girls, women and communities; providing access to adapted sanitation facilities in schools and communities; training girls and women to make pads in those places where they cannot be obtained and distributing menstrual kits in emergency contexts.