Guest blog by Chloe Tingle, a past intern of FRANK Water and founder of the social enterprise no more taboo. working to break the silence around menstruation.
Thursday 28th May is Global Menstrual Hygiene Day! A day where all around the world, the issues surrounding menstruation are brought to the attention of the public to raise awareness of this silenced issue. Menstruating women are often subjected to fear, shame and restrictions when on their period. Over 50% of the world’s population are female, yet menstruation is still a taboo subject which leads to missed school, missed work and poor health.
Menstrual hygiene is still a fairly new topic for the water and sanitation industry, this is only the 2nd year the official Menstrual Hygiene Day has been celebrated and we are proud to be a part of that. Many of you may be thinking, what does menstruation have to do with providing clean water?
Well, first of all in many communities it is the women who are responsible for collecting water, if they are unable to do so because of ineffective management of their menstruation, this can have a knock on effect for the whole community. In fact in some areas, including parts of India women are believed to pollute water courses if they are on their period and are banned from going near them. How are they meant to bathe, cook, clean or continue with their normal routine in such circumstances?
Secondly, women and girls are often forced to use unsanitary materials such as leaves, ash, rags or toilet paper instead of a pad or other sanitary product. Even when they have access to these products, disposal can cause huge issues. If a woman throws it down the toilet it may block the toilet, or interfere with the decomposition of the pit latrine. If she burns it, it may release carcinogenic chemicals or if she buries it, these chemicals may leach straight into the water course. Access to water is essential to remain clean and healthy during your period, as is access to appropriate toilet and sanitation facilities. When girls do not have access to adequate materials and facilities, they regularly miss and drop out of school. One study in India found that inadequate menstrual products make girls drop out of school for approximately five days a month, or 50 days a year, with 23% leaving school altogether when they begin to menstruate (Rose George, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council).
There is also a need for clear effective education in why we menstruate, what materials are available and how to separate the facts from the myths. Through my voluntary work on this topic in both Bolivia and Uganda, I have seen a huge amount of confusion and misunderstanding. In Bolivia they believed if you eat onions whilst menstruating you will get cancer, in Uganda if a woman crosses a garden whilst menstruating all the plants will shrivel up and die.
In the UK, whilst condoms are provided free on the NHS, sanitary products continue to be taxed as a luxury product. For homeless women in particular, finding access to adequate sanitary materials is a monthly struggle, with many resorting to using whatever materials they can find.
From my experience, the way to do this is to approach the issue from three different directions: providing education, providing appropriate sanitary materials and providing access to sanitation facilities including clean water.
What can you do?
- If you're interested in finding out more about menstruation and its importance in the water and sanitation industry read our briefing here.
- Support FRANK Water to help us provide comprehensive water and sanitation projects which include menstrual hygiene promotion by donating today.
- Look for environmentally friendly and ethical feminine hygiene products. From 25-31 May, Natracare are offering to donate £1 to FRANK Water for every pack of Natracare sold on at BigGreenSmile - have a green period AND support safe water & sanitation in India
- Take action! Sign the petition to end the “tampon tax” here: and the petition for the homeless shelters to be given an allowance to buy sanitary products here:
- Join Talk.Period for a full day’s activities surrounding the issues of menstruation on Thursday 28th May including a FREE Film Screening of ‘Menstrual Man’ and a panel debate on the issues of:
o Menstrual waste: a mountain in the making.
o Homelessness: poverty and periods.
o The period tax: why are we taxed 5% VAT?
With panel guests Laura Coryton from #stoptheperiodtax, Vicky Halliday from Go with the flow and #thehomelessperiod, Val Thompson from Women’s Night Shelter Bristol, Cezara Nanu from Bristol Women’s Voice and representatives from OxPolicy, Women’s Environment Network and Bristol Green Capital.