The onset of menstruation is an indicator of reproductive health and nature’s rite of passage from childhood to womanhood. It has a huge influence on a girl’s sense of identity and self-worth. However, in the developing world where adequate sanitation facilities (separate latrines for girls and boys) are rare, menstruation can be a barrier to education, employment, equity, empowerment and a sense of self-worth. Unfortunately in all too many cultures, it is also a taboo subject shrouded in shame and secrecy.
In fact, UNICEF monitoring data shows that one-third of schools in the developing world do not even have adequate facilities and in sub-Saharan Africa, this figure is nearly 50%. Making schools a safe place for girls during their menstruation would protect girls from being ridiculed, sexually harassed or attacked by predators by waiting until darkness to go in the woods.
With strong evidence that poor Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities affect maternal and reproductive health outcomes, the availability of facilities for appropriate menstruation management should be recognized as a human rights issue. It is high time this situation receive priority attention.
Women Deliver was the world’s largest gathering on the health, rights and well-being of women and girls in Vancouver this month. Our Prime Minister announced that Canada will invest $14 billion over 10 years to promote the health and rights of women and girls around the world.
A smart investment for some of this money would be to help equip all schools and work places with basic separate sanitation facilities and culturally appropriate hygiene products. Anything less is an affront to a woman’s and a girl’s inherent dignity as a human being. It is incumbent upon our government and others to change this.
Barbara Hemming-Stephen St. Denis,