It is a subject rarely talked about in public, if at all. It is a complete no-no in polite company. Yet it is as natural as breathing.
Some would say as a man, there are more qualified voices than mine to intimately talk about it. But, as a father of a couple of daughters, I have more than passing interest.
Some estimates put one in 10 girls as missing school during their period every month in Africa. One cannot belabor the impact of this on such a girl’s life.
A recent Newsweek article reminds us that taboos, poverty, inadequate sanitary facilities, meager health education and an enduring culture of silence create an environment in which girls and women are denied what should be a basic right: clean, affordable menstrual materials and safe, private spaces to care for themselves.
And when the subject is talked about, it is sanitised and, perhaps cruel. Let’s take that one girl out of 10 to be 12 year-old Jane, who could be living somewhere in the rural or seedier parts of urban Africa.
When Jane sees one of those TV ads where a light blue fluid demonstrates the absorbent properties of fluffy white pads, she wishes to have a supply of them. It would mean her being in school.
In the ad, girls her age – clearly in their menses – show the freedom the pads afford them in playful mischief while in school uniform.
There should be a way to allow Jane access the pads. Free of charge.
Some organisations have been trying, but it’s only a drop in the ocean. The edifying Newsweek article tells us that there’s a movement—propelled by activists, inventors, politicians, startup founders and everyday people—to strip menstruation of its stigma and ensure that public policy keeps up.
The movement is gathering pace. Away from the sanitized ad there’s a more unvarnished and dramatic instance, of which Cosmopolitan, the women’s magazine, termed 2015 “the year the period went public.”
During the 2015 London Marathon, musician Kiran Gandhi drew headlines when she had her period while running the marathon, and unflappably crossed the finish line with a large unmistakable red stain. It was, in many ways, a watershed moment.
And, towards the end of last month, photographer Rupi Kaur posted a picture of a fully clothed woman lying in bed with a period stain clearly showing on Instagram, one of the most popular photo-sharing websites in the world.
Clueless to the intent, and, no doubt, complicit to the silence around menstruation as squeamish and in poor taste to make so public, Instagram twice attempted to remove the picture.
Kaur intent was to “demystify the period and make something that is innate ‘normal’ again”.
These are only two examples, of which the movement is gathering pace talking about gender equality and social change through women’s periods.
But it’s Kaur who captures it charging forward as the year progresses. After Instagram tried to put down her series of pictures around menstruation, Kaur articulated it on Facebook: “Thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. You deleted my photo twice stating that it goes against community guidelines.
“I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
Instagram relented and quit trying to remove the photos in the realization of what it meant as an unvarnished statement, thus embracing the larger picture (pun intended).
As for Jane, it best put in the words of Diana Sierra quoted in the Newsweek article, and whose firm, BeGirl, has distributed over 15,000 pairs of reusable underwear in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and 10 other countries: “You cannot assume just because someone has low income, someone has low expectations or low aspirations.”
It’s a human rights issue, of which, in ensuring menstrual health, “it’s not just giving a girl a panty or pad. It’s giving knowledge, so she can own her body and make informed decisions.”Follow https://twitter.com/gituram