Periods are a big problem. It’s facile, but that’s the conclusion I drew after a break in which I did a lot of readings on the subject. I knew that I wanted to work on a project that affected both where we live and more developing countries, and I knew that periods caused big problems for girls around the world– some girls will not go to school when it happens, and it’s incredibly hard for many to purchase and access menstruation products. That’s not to mention anyone with PCOS and other debilitating symptoms!
Here are some readings from UNICEF:
- Proceedings of the Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools Virtual Conference 2012 (This one is great!)
- case study of menstrual hygiene - Unicef
- Puberty education & menstrual hygiene - Unesco
Here are some articles that might be illuminating:
- [Fears and concerns related to menstruation: a qualitative study from the perspective of gender]http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0104-07072015000100013
- [Menstruation 101 For Boys: A Comic Book Is Their Guide]http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/03/04/516628738/menstruation-101-for-boys-a-comic-book-is-their-guide
- Period pain can be “almost as bad as a heart attack.” Why aren’t we researching how to treat it?
- A woman ran the London Marathon without a tampon to protest period-shaming
- The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary
On homeless periods:
- Periods an extra hardship for homeless women
- This Is How Homeless Women Cope With Their Periods
- Homeless Periods: A Problem of Poverty, Dignity, and Feminine Hygiene
I also took a look at Whisper and Tumblr to see how actual teens and younger women talk about their periods, and it wasn’t actually too different from how people my age talk about it. There was certainly more embarrassment involved, but a lot of it was complaints about cramps, just like any woman.
It is easy for me to endlessly research, but coming up with a project concept was significantly tougher. There are three main avenues that I can approach this problem from:
- Education. Although puberty and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is taught in most schools around the world, many women do not get taught about menstruation until after they get their first periods. How do we educate younger girls about this? How do we educate boys to be sensitive about this? And how do we correct misconceptions, or handle any other questions (like PCOS) that might not be addressed in their formal education?
- Access to MHM and hygiene. In many countries, pads are incredibly expensive and are not accessible to many girls and women. Additionally, it may be difficult to wash yourself of any stains and accidents, as well as get new clothes and underwear. Fresh water is not always accessible, and many places do not have bathrooms. Even in the US, it is difficult for poorer women and the homeless to get pads and tampons– you might have to choose between eating and MHM. How can we help the most vulnerable get access and feel clean and safe?
- Access to the above in emergency situations. If what I described wasn’t bad enough, imagine dealing with these things during a civil war or a natural disaster. How can you learn about periods if you live in a refugee camp? How can we keep hygiene a priority when you do not have clean water to access?
It’s difficult, but after giving it a lot of thought, I think it all cycles back to education. If we don’t educate people on the importance of MHM, then we will never create the circumstances in which access for all will be created, and in which MHM is given thought during emergency situations. It’s particularly important that we both keep in mind cultural sensitivities, and also educate all genders about the subject: many girls don’t go to school during their periods because they face ridicule from the boys.
This project will take a three pronged approach:
- Advertising and educating the general public. It’s very taboo in most cultures to discuss periods, so it’s important that the discussion is brought to the open and the more general public. Periods are not a dirty word, and it shouldn’t be a secret that men don’t understand.
- Private chat to answer particular questions about periods that might not be addressed in the usual education system. It’s an extremely popular misconception around the world that using tampons would mean you are no longer a virgin. Asking a male teacher about this, or even a female one, would be incredibly awkward. Mothers and friends might tell you the wrong information. We need a trusted resource that is accessible and respectful of girls’ questions.
- RapidSMS/UReport to identify information impoverished areas to correct MSM misconceptions.
It’s not a revolutionary approach, and may not be a “provocation” per se, but I think a devoted resource to the topic worldwide would be incredibly powerful. It’s also within the scope of accomplishment– no fantasy pad making devices or laws are needed. It can be done in partnership with governments and corporations. It’s within our grasp.
(System diagram is forthcoming! Apologies.)
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