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One of the biggest and most constant struggles of being a woman is fighting the taboos and superstitions surrounding menstruation. No matter how liberal or modern we may think ourselves to have become, conversations about menstruation are still held in whispers and sanitary napkins wrapped tightly in black plastic bags. Girls are still told to keep silence about ‘that time of the month’. Whether in developing countries or in developed countries face this problem the only difference is that in developed countries people are open to it rather being silent on this. Women in the land of worshipping Goddess are still considered ‘dirty’ or ‘impure’ even after being a menstruating women considered as most sacred and powerful with increased psychic abilities and strong enough to heal the sick in the ancient time. According to the Cherokee menstrual blood was a source of feminine strength and had the power to destroy the enemies. Due to the societal stigma many are not allowed to perform religious ceremonies or even enter the kitchen. During those 5 days, myths and superstitions dictate how women spend their day – from where they sleep to their bathing practices and even their diet. But these are fairly well-known things. This situation is no simpler round the world the below mentioned countries gives an idea of how menstruation is treated and girls are educated about menstrual blood[1].

1. Afghanistan

During menstruation, women in Afghanistan avoid washing their vaginas because they are told it can lead to infertility. Compounding the issue is the lack of access to clean pads. A single menstrual pad costs $4 USD in Afghanistan. Sixty-two percent of Afghani schoolgirls report using strips of torn clothing, and many hold off on washing them until nightfall to keep it a secret.

2. Australia

Areas in Australia like Solomon Island, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, where water sanitation is a problem. While older women are still using reusable cloths, younger women use disposable pads. These impoverished communities don’t have proper solid waste management, so the pads end up in the waterways and dogs are eating them. While some women are open about their periods and see it as natural, letting the cloths dry on the washing line, other women see it as taboo.

3. Georgia

In Georgia, periods are perceived as something that men shouldn't even be aware of, so my mom taught me the stealthiest techniques for stashing my pads up my sleeve before heading to the bathroom.

4. Japan

A long-standing tradition in Japan dictates that women cannot be sushi chefs because their sense of taste is thrown off by menstruation. “To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs.

5. Kenya

The ability to afford menstrual pads is a luxury for women all over the world, and for women in Kenya, this luxury is often at the behest of a male superior, like their husband or father. Because of this, many women resort to using leaves and sticks to absorb the blood. Even then, girls in Kenya miss an average of 4.9 days of school a month because of their periods.

Unawareness alone has not contributed to this problem but lack of access to the products has been also the main cause and has also contributed equally to it. Around the world, only 12 percent of young people with periods have access to the products they need. In India, more than eight in ten people don’t have access to menstrual products. This condition is even similar in developed countries like USA, for an estimated 50,000 people who are homeless in the United States.

Ø In Kenya, 65 percent people don’t have enough money to buy menstrual products.

For the more than one in eight women in the United States living below the poverty line, access to affordable menstrual products is also a problem.

Ø In some countries, one-third of girls who’ve reached puberty reported their first sexual encounter was forced.

According to research from the World Health Organization (WHO), getting their period makes many young women and girls around the world target for sexual violence. Around the world "complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15–19,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, who is WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health.

Ø In Burkina Faso, 83 percent of students don’t have a place to change menstrual products at school.

In Niger, the same is true for 77 percent of students. Having access to period products is only part of the solution as people need safe, sanitary space to use and change those products regularly.

Ø In Africa, one in ten adolescent girls miss school during their period.

Missing school during their period is also the reality for one in four students in India. Having a period shouldn’t have to cost a student their education, and studies have shown that giving girls access to period products helps them stay in school. In terms of economics, when women suffer the community suffers, as every additional year of education can increase a woman’s earnings up to 25 percent over the course of her lifetime. The situation is almost the same for India Sixty-four studies reported on school absenteeism associated with menstruation, with one in four girls missing one or more school days during menstruation the graph below shows school absenteeism related to menstruation[2], change of absorbent in school, and availability of a toilet at home, Indian studies published between 2000 and 2015.

Ø Across the world, an estimated 100 million young people lack access to adequate menstrual products

This problem also persists closer to home, as 26.4 million people can’t afford menstrual products in the United States.

There are over 355 million menstruating women and girls in India, but millions of women across the country still face significant barriers to a comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual hygiene management (MHM). A study found that 71% of girls in India 5 report having no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. 6 At menarche, schoolgirls in Jaipur, Rajasthan report their dominant feelings to be shock (25%), fear (30%), anxiety (69%), guilt (22%), and frustration (22%). 7 Further, 70% of women in India say their family cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. 8 And in 2012, 40% of all government schools lacked a functioning common toilet, and another 40% lacked a separate toilet for girls

• Girls do not consistently have access to education on puberty and menstrual health. In India, 71% of girls report having no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. 29,30 Girls often turn to their mothers for information and support, but 70% of mothers consider menstruation “dirty,” further perpetuating taboos.

• Girls do not have consistent access to preferred, high-quality MHM products. Almost 88% of women and girls in India use homemade alternatives, such as an old cloth, rags, hay, sand, or ash. Qualitative studies and an analysis of the product market indicate that premium commercial products are unaffordable or not consistently accessible for women and girls in low-income communities.

• Women and girls lack access to appropriate sanitation facilities. There are 63 million adolescent girls living in homes without toilets. Despite national efforts to improve sanitation, women and girls lack appropriate facilities and community support to manage their menstruation privately and in a safe manner.

• There have been a shift of homemade products to disposable pads, Approximately 88% of women in India use homemade products (e.g., old cloth or rags) to manage their menstruation. The main reasons for using cloth-based product are: personal preference and familiarity, lack of access to or affordability for high quality commercial sanitary pads, and lack of sufficient information about pads. Some girls also use locally made cotton cloth. In a study of 164 adolescent girls in rural Gujarat, 68% said their first choice was a new soft cloth, while 32% said sanitary pads, and none of them preferred old cloths. 115 In extreme cases, women also use hay, ash sand, ash, wood shavings, newspapers, dried leaves, or plastic. However, robust research on usage across India as well as impact on health outcomes has not been conducted.

The less use of sanitary pads not only affects the hygiene but also sometimes affect the women’s health drastically. They get prone to even diseases like cancer some of the diseases or disorders caused due to them are:

A rare period disorder can cause bleeding of the eyes[3]. Known as vicarious menstruation, this rare (but terrifying) condition makes you bleed from organs besides your uterus — like your eyes — while you’re on your period. Luckily, only a handful of cases have been recorded, according to study authors, who say this condition is caused when endometrial tissue (which normally grows in your uterus and sheds during your period) is transmitted through the bloodstream.

Getting your period can worsen asthma symptoms. In the week leading up to your period, an increased sensitivity to allergens, paired with a lower-than-normal lung capacity, causes between 19 and 40 percent of women with asthma to experience premenstrual asthma (PMA), according to a study published in the journal Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine.

Menstruation is a real bona fide health issue. It’s not an afterthought of child development or insignificant to a growing girl’s sexual and reproductive health. If girls don’t have resources for proper menstrual hygiene management (MHM) like practical information, a safe and private place to change a menstrual cloth or pad and water for washing at school, they may miss class, or stop going entirely. Decades of evidence indicate that educating girls improves the overall health of their communities. World Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated annually on 28 May to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene. The aim should be to provide as much awareness among the people not specifically to women but also to the men so that we just don’t become liberal by words but by our actions. This stigma of menstruation will only be broken when we will start talking about it instead of hiding it in shame or embarrassment. The government is also sensing the need of spreading awareness and t have also started new programs and schemes .

[1] Article by Julia Johns, May 27, 2016

[2] BMJ Journals

[3] the journal Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery

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