Lack of menstrual education
In Asia especially, menstrual education is lacking both within schools and among families. A study conducted by UNICEF in South Asia revealed that 1 in 3 girls weren’t aware of menstruation prior to their first period. This is a BIG issue for two reasons. Firstly, girls who start their period without any previous knowledge are often shocked and scared - we’ve encountered many women who thought they were seriously ill, or even about to die, when they first spotted blood on their panties. In addition, it signifies to girls from an early age that menstruation is a topic that shouldn’t be discussed.
When starting their period, many girls are slipped a pad by their mom and given no further explanations. Mimicking the behavior of friends and family, they quickly learn that menstruation is a taboo topic and fear to ask questions about it. This can leave girls feeling confused and ashamed about their bodies.
Given the traditional and religious beliefs popular throughout Asia, these feelings are often reinforced by figures in authoritative positions. Because in many Asian countries menstrual blood is traditionally considered “impure”, girls are often shamed by their teachers, classmates or family members. These feelings and attitudes build a ripple effect, which continues to influence girls throughout their lifetime.
Reduced opportunities due to menstruation
These feelings, coupled with traditional practices, may encourage girls to skip school while menstruating. Pressure to avoid school is also likely to come from family members or teachers with traditional mindsets. Lack of access to proper period care further increases the number of girls missing classes or dropping out of school altogether. It’s estimated that girls skip between 10-20% of classes because of their periods. In countries like India, 1 out of 5 girls drops out of school after starting their period. In our own research in Hong Kong, we found that 1 in 4 women have missed work more than once in the past year because of their periods.
This contributes to the lower number of girls, compared to boys, that graduate school. It encourages girls to abandon their studies, often opting instead for early marriage or child birth. The cycle of poverty is thus reinforced and girls are stripped of their opportunity to overcome their economic situation.
The shame that surrounds periods is not the only obstacle keeping girls away from their education. Period poverty, which refers to the lack of access to safe menstrual products, is a widespread problem. By many families, pads & tampons are considered luxuries, not necessities. Girls are often forced to rely on rags or other inadequate and unhygienic solutions when menstruating.
In cases like these, periods stop being an ‘inconvenience’ and become instead debilitating. Not only are daily habits (like going to school) put on pause for the time of menstruation, but serious health risks are more likely to develop.
Period poverty is not limited to products, but also facilities which women and girls rely on while on their period. If schools or workplaces are not equipped with clean, private and well-equipped bathrooms, for example, it can be almost impossible for girls to manage their periods.
A global phenomenon
In this conversation it’s also important to highlight that these experiences are not exclusive to third-world countries or regions where religious beliefs prevail. Although they may reach extremes in these places (such as the practice of Chhaupadi in Nepal), they are nonetheless real on a global scale.
In the UK, for example, 15% of schoolgirls have found it difficult to afford period care. This has been shown to not only affect their performance at school, but also beyond, with 44% of those who’d lived through period poverty struggling with finding employment. Proving once again that when resources are lacking to deal with menstruation in a healthy & sustainable way, women are put at a disadvantage.
The road to progress
Even for the women who have the luxury of seeing their period as no more than an inconvenience, this global standard can be damaging. When workplaces deny easy access to indispensable products, when big brands hide their ingredients list, when advertisements fail to accurately portray periods, when friends refuse to use proper terminology for our bodies – we are being held back.
By failing to cater to the menstrual health needs of women, society is failing to promote true gender equality. This failure extends to corporate that ignore the well-being of their employees & to schools that don't offer inclusive sex education and healthy products to their students.
Which is why we've launched our NEW NORMAL initiative, to bring healthy & safe periods to corporate and schools across Asia.
What is A NEW NORMAL?
A NEW NORMAL is a region-wide initiative by Asia’s social impact period care company, LUÜNA naturals. It provides menstrual health education, alongside healthy & planet-friendly period products to staff, using a portion of profits to fund menstrual cup donations to low income communities in the region. We have a goal to donate 5,000 cups by Women's Day 2020.