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Introduction to the Menstrual Hygiene Campaign

“Over half the world menstruates at one time or another, but you’d never know it. Isn’t that strange?” - Margaret Cho

Period poverty - A global issue concerning the lack of access to safe, hygienic sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and/or waste management.

Period poverty doesn’t exclusively refer to those who have no access to sanitary products - in some cases people have limited access, leading to prolonged use of the same tampons or pads, which can cause infection.

Overwhelmingly this arises from financial constraints, and victimises the poorest segments of society. Those affected may also be unable to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity, sometimes due to community stigma and sanction (such as chhaupadi in Nepal).

1.8 billion people around the world experience this normal biological process, “yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by women” (Judy Grahn).

Consequences of period poverty

The consequences of period poverty are far-reaching and damning. The inability to manage a menstrual cycle in a clean, dignified way is a detriment to education, physical health, employment prospects and mental welfare.

Around the world, at least 500 million women and girls lack proper access to menstrual hygiene facilities. Even in the UK, this is a prevalent, pressing issue: 1 in 10 girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products, and 1 in 7 has struggled to afford them.

This forces girls to find alternative, often unhygienic, means to manage their period, such as pieces of dirty rugs, cotton wool, leaves and paper. Not only do these materials expose them to harmful infections and serious health risks, the stigma and embarrassment associated with menstruation cause many girls to miss school.

Low-middle income countries

Although this is a widespread global issue, the consequences are exacerbated in low-middle income countries, where people suffer in many ways from a lack of hygiene facilities and education.

A UNESCO report estimates that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa either do not attend school during their periods or drop out at puberty because of the lack of effective menstrual hygiene management. This represents a significant loss of education, limiting future opportunities and affecting self-confidence in girls at a crucial point in their lives. In the worst cases, it can mean that girls are more likely to be forced into child marriage.

Women continue to suffer past school-age, stigmatised and shamed by the community, with their health also compromised if they must resort to dirty rags. Risks of infection can be greater for those who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), a barbaric practice common in many African countries.

Impact of COVID

The current pandemic has further exacerbated the menstruation-related challenges and existing inequalities around the world. The economic impact of Covid-19 means that many women and girls must prioritise other basic needs over safe menstrual products.

Furthermore, disrupted schooling and access to information about menstruation make it increasingly difficult for girls and women to adequately manage their periods.

Due to school closures, many vulnerable young people will have missed out on essential parts of their education this year, including sex education. Key charitable organisations, who would ordinarily provide resources and services, have been left decimated from a funding crisis during the pandemic.

Menstrual hygiene education is vital. Its absence is a key element of period poverty, and young girls will suffer from fear, confusion, and lack of knowledge about their period as a result.

How you can help

The menstrual hygiene discourse needs to change so that menstruation is no longer considered taboo but can be discussed openly and comfortably with everyone.

This campaign aims to raise awareness of period poverty and contribute to breaking the harmful stigma surrounding menstruation. By joining the campaign, you can learn more about the issues millions of women and girls across the world face, strengthen the capacity of charities working to ensure safe, clean, and sustainable periods, and facilitate advocacy to reduce period poverty.

Below is a picture of the author attending a period poverty protest last year, with now-u Campaigns Researcher Sara Anderson.

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While protests like this aren’t possible at the moment, there’s still a lot you can do to help through our app. Whether it’s signing petitions, making donations, changing your brand of period product or sharing stories on your social media, it’s your time of the month to get involved!

Our partner

We’re proud to have partnered with a life-changing charity for this campaign, which was co-created with You Humanity, whose mission is to share stories of kindness and curate campaigns with a purpose and for the greater good. It is through one of these stories that they met Sylvia Khasoa Maina, founder of Simama na DADA Initiative, a period poverty charity in Kenya, who is currently facing difficulties with funding and the schools being closed till next year. This is an opportunity for You Humanity to support Sylvia and her community, and amplify their story of positive change. We have worked with You Humanity to design the campaign, share resources and give users a space to share their own period stories. Moreover, this campaign's donations will contribute to the work of Simama Na DADA Initiative.

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Matthew Harris

A recent chemical engineering graduate from the University of Cambridge. Blogger and copywriter for now-u. Big fan of Jaffa Cakes and road trips. Based near Rugby with two siblings.

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Community Interest Company (12709184) and Charitable Incorporated Organisation (1196568)