By Rachel Peck, PWW Intern
Five years ago, the United Nations designated today, October 11th to be the International Day of the Girl Child in an effort to highlight many of these issues facing young women all over the world. It is a day to empower young women and to celebrate what makes them unique. This year’s theme is “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls” and it recognizes that what is good for young women will have a positive impact on their families and communities. Healthy and empowered girls are essential to a thriving community. For many, gender equality also means they should be able to meet the needs of one of human’s most basic function; menstruation.
According to an article in the Harvard Political Review, women and girls in East Africa use “leaves, newspapers and cow-dung” throughout the duration of their cycle. The article also states that “70 percent of reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene” in India. These diseases, which are common in developing countries are introduced to the body through the unsanitary materials used to absorb menstrual blood. Outside of the potential health risks, women and girls are removed from their communities and, in some countries, they are told that their cycle is contagious and will “contaminate or curse” others. It is also one of the number one reasons for the education gap in developing countries. According to the Global Citizen, girls miss about eight days of school each term due to their cycles in Uganda and nearly five days of school each month in Kenya. In South Asia, girls have to leave school due to a lack of toilets and water. In an interview with The Guardian, 16-year-old Joan Anyango said “Boyes used to laugh at me and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started.” Anyango said she was cutting up old t-shirts and using them as menstruation pads, but she still stained her dresses.
In study conducted in 2015 in Trojes, Honduras, Pure Water for the World found that 48% of the women and girls, who answered their survey, did not know what menstruation was and 63% reported missing class due to their cycle. PWW works to help solve some of these issues in the communities they work in by providing education and materials. PWW holds menstrual talks and workshops in communities to show women and girls how to sew their own reusable sanitary pads. During their workshops, young girls are taught the facts about their cycle and how it is not something to be ashamed of. These workshops lead to empowered girls, who will get the opportunity to grow into educated women.
Recently PWW staff conducted a menstrual hygiene workshop in the Honduran community of Moria. At this school, there were only two girls old enough to discuss menstruation with. Margie, PWW Health Promoter, asked the girls if they knew what menstruation was – both girls said they didn’t know. Margie then asked them both if they had started their cycles. Both girls, ages 11 and 12, said no. That was when Margie noticed that the 12-year-old girl had started to tear up. Margie knew the girl already had her period, but that she felt such shame because of it.
During the workshop with the mothers, Margie emphasized that they should speak to their daughters about menstruation and the changes their bodies go through during puberty. Girls with knowledge do not have to be ashamed like this young girl and many others.
Today is a day to celebrate the challenges women and girls have overcome and to recognize all the work that still needs to be done. Join PWW in celebrating International Day of the Girl and seek to empower those in your life, not just today, but every day. To learn more about PWW’s efforts, visit: www.purewaterfortheworld.org