It is the twenty first century and menstruation, a natural biological system, is still a matter of social taboo. Women and girls cannot open up about menstruation and feel ashamed because of this natural bodily function.
More than 85% of the women and girls in rural areas still use cloth during menstruation and they dry these cloths in a hidden place – none of which can be considered safe hygiene practice. Many adolescent girls miss at least three school days during each menstrual cycle and only 1% of schools have menstrual pad disposal facilities. As a result, they lose scholarships and drop out of school, which leads to early marriage. In the academic curricula, there is a section focusing on MHM issues, but in reality almost every school avoids this chapter. Low-cost sanitary napkins are hardly available in remote and hard to reach areas.
Practical Action started SaniMart in 2010 in Gaibandha Municipality to stimulate and sensitize safe menstrual hygiene practices and recently added an incinerator for burning used napkins safely. This approach involved adolescent girls and initiated learning centres to promote low-cost and safe menstrual hygiene products. SaniMart also supported the practice of safe menstrual hygiene behaviours of adolescent girls and women. The main objective of this approach was to enrich the knowledge and skills of adolescent girls in the production and use of low-cost sanitary napkins. SaniMart has been successful in empowering girls by getting them involved in trading and other productive activities.
There is no doubt that SaniMart helped empower many adolescent girls. They helped their families with their earnings, learned how to trade, and promoted safe menstrual hygiene practice throughout the community.
Need to include all
However, there is another side of the coin we’ve missed – by making SaniMart an all-girl initiative, we still could not break the silence about menstruation. This is an approach that sensitized the menstrual hygiene practices among adolescent girls and women, but they did not include the participation of men in any step of the process. Thus, the inclusiveness of the approach only included half of the community people we worked with. The beautiful packets of the sanitary pads are still wrapped in dark papers so that no one sees what is inside when a girl carries that. We also came to know from one of the SaniMart girls that they hardly ever talk about their work in schools because there is a chance that their peers will make fun of them. And we would wonder when and how menstruation became a matter people can ridicule.
Menstruation matters – to everyone, everywhere
We still ask girls and women to go through this on their own without engaging their male counterparts. Menstruation happens every month to almost half of the world population. We must have #NoMoreLimits to talk about menstruation with anyone who matters in our lives.
* Data source: Bangladesh National Hygiene Assessment draft report 2014