On any given day, more than 800 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating. In many developing countries, the social and economic barriers faced by menstruating women and girls impact education, health, and development.
For Menstrual Hygiene Day 2015, Plan is highlighting 3 important themes:
1. Access to safe and sanitary products and facilities
- Only 12 percent of girls and women have access to sanitary products. The rest rely on materials such as old, dirty rags, newspaper, leaves, dirt, and other unhygienic materials that often lead to infection and embarrassment due to leaks and odor.
- Lack of private latrines, running water for washing, and appropriate sanitary products for girls can lead to absenteeism from school because of the embarrassment and discomfort that comes from periods. Studies in some countries have shown that the majority of girls miss between one and three days of school during each period. Irregular attendance can lead to lower grades and can eventually lead to dropping out altogether.
2. Engaging men and boys
- Educating adolescent boys on the challenges and struggles girls face could help decrease their misconceptions, while at the same time helping them become more understanding and supportive brothers, husbands, and fathers.
- In developing countries, fathers are often the breadwinners and decision-makers in families. Educating them about menstrual hygiene is crucial because they determine the budget for sanitary products.
3. Overcoming stigma and taboos surrounding menstruation
- Many cultures and societies across the globe perpetuate taboos and social stigmas around menstruation that limit women and girls in their daily life, causing them to feel ashamed about a natural and normal bodily function.
What is Plan doing?
Plan recognizes the need for investment in these important issues and is working to combat stigma, increase knowledge, and improve access to appropriate facilities and menstrual hygiene products. The organization is currently implementing menstrual-specific programming in seven countries throughout Africa and Asia.
Here are two examples of Plan’s menstrual hygiene management projects:
- The Because I am a Girl (BIAAG) Girls’ Empowerment Through Education Project in Ethiopia is providing a quality primary education for over 5,000 girls in eight schools in Yeka and Akaki Kaliti, sub-cities of Addis Ababa. Through the project, girls receive uniforms and school supplies and extracurricular tutoring sessions and trainings on important life skills such as leadership and public speaking. In addition, water tanks and latrines are constructed, and libraries and classrooms are stocked with books and materials. Finally, parents receive finance and business trainings so they can increase their income and support their children’s education independently after the project ends.
- In Ethiopia, menstrual hygiene is a big issue for school-aged girls. When girls reach puberty, it is critical that they have access to safe toilets and water – so this became an integral part of the program. The project also provided menstrual hygiene management training for girls and teachers, combined with a free disposable sanitary pad service for girls. But there was a problem with disposable pads in this context. It wasn’t a sustainable solution: when the project ends, the girls won’t be able to afford the disposable pads and could go back to using the unsafe materials they were using previously.
- To address this issue Plan teamed up with Be Girl, a social enterprise that produces reusable, leak-proof sanitary pads. Be Girl donated 500 reusable pads and 120 of their new “panty-pads” to girls in the project. The panty-pads were a direct response to a need that arose in the program. Through engaging with girls, both Plan and Be Girl had learned that many girls couldn’t afford underwear. So Be Girl designed the panty-pad – a two-in-one product that meets the specific needs of these girls. A set of just two Be Girl pads will last a girl up to two years, providing a sustainable solution to a common problem.
- In Uganda, girls and women lack access to affordable sanitary products and have limited knowledge about menstruation and menstrual hygiene management.
- Plan Uganda has partnered with AFRIpads to provide access to locally-made, hygienic, reusable pads for women and girls, combined with training on how to use the pads and lessons on menstrual hygiene management. Plan purchases the pads from AFRIpads and then sells them to local vendors at a subsidized rate. These local vendors then sell the pads to local girls and women. To increase income generation, Plan has trained local women and men as sales agents to sell the AFRIpads throughout the community. Not only does this improve access to sanitary pads, but it also provides these vendors with a reliable source of income.
- To increase knowledge, attitudes, and practices surrounding menstrual hygiene management, the program trains girls, boys, and senior teachers. Village health teams also receive training on menstrual hygiene management so they can support the program within communities. In addition, Plan has helped to develop and distribute educational materials related to menstrual hygiene management, including readers and informational materials.