May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day. You might be asking yourself, “Why does something so normal and natural—something that is routinely experienced by half of the world’s population—deserve its very own special day?” Great question!
Across the globe, girls and women experience challenges because of their menstruation. In many countries, menstruation is a taboo topic. Many cultures do not prepare girls for the onset of this normal event; others require girls and women to isolate themselves during their periods. Even in developed nations, talk about menstruation is frowned upon, and when people are menstruating, they hide it. Girls may face ridicule from their peers, depending on social and cultural norms related to menstruation.
The result of these responses to menstruation is that too many girls miss school because they do not have the resources to manage their periods or they don’t have access to private, sanitary facilities. Too many women lose opportunities to reach their full potential because they miss too much school or work during menstruation. On top of these realities is the blanket of silence and taboo that portrays girls and women as inferior or somehow tainted. This perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination.
The goal of Menstrual Hygiene Day is to “create a world in which every woman and girl can manage her menstruation in a hygienic way—wherever she is—in privacy, safety, and with dignity.” This will be done when we break the silence and create systems that support people in managing their menstrual hygiene.
Think about your own education related to menstruation. Perhaps you are one of the fortunate few who experienced a very open and shame-free education about the changes of puberty, including menstruation. More often, people tell me that they experienced a silence on the topic of puberty that implied shame or something wrong. Often, I hear stories about a first period being a source of fear or embarrassment.
Schools and families often provide girls with information about menstruation, but leave boys out because “they don’t need to know.” This implies that the subject of menstruation should be kept a secret from boys. How will this promote respect and understanding for others? Most young people will have families of their own someday and will need to know how to support their partners and children who menstruate. Adults can model respect for diversity by discussing menstruation in a supportive and matter-of-fact manner.
Whether you are a parent, guardian, grandparent, or educator, you can promote menstrual health and hygiene by talking about it with the young people in your life. You can model respect and support for those who are menstruating. You can talk about it in a positive and informative manner that eliminates the prevalent aura of shame and stigma. Consider the following resources for educating all young people about menstruation:
Read books on menstruation together, or make them available for children to read themselves:
Create a tradition to celebrate the transitions that mark a young person’s steps toward adulthood.
Create a private celebration of the first menstrual period. Gift that special young person with one of these books; each combines information and journaling.
Get guidance for parents and guardians who want to talk to their daughters about menstruation. Although this book was published in 1998, the information and advice is still useful today.
Ask your school how they teach menstruation. Consider using Puberty: The Wonder Years to teach all students about menstruation in a positive way. These lessons specifically teach about menstruation: