Written by Natalia Surujnath
Menstruation is a normal aspect of life, yet society has stigmatized the topic for far too long. Shame and guilt from a natural body process have led many to overlook menstrual health and the issue of period poverty. Period poverty is defined as the lack of access to menstrual products, waste management, hygiene facilities, and education. Period poverty deprives girls of education, which often results in a lack of economic opportunities, overall impacting women's economic empowerment. Women and girls who struggle through period poverty could even witness the psychological effects of social isolation and impaired cognitive skills. Period poverty is a public health crisis that concerns all genders.
According to the World Bank, as many as 500 million people worldwide lack basic menstrual products and hygienic washroom facilities to use during their menstrual cycle. The lack of accessibility perpetuates period poverty. However, period poverty is much more than access to hygienic products and facilities.
Period poverty is also:
Affordability: Why are menstrual products getting taxed? Who could afford these products?
Environmentally: The lack of sanitary facilities and supplies to produce menstrual products.
Education: Lack of access to period products leads to school absenteeism and results in a disengagement of school that later hinders the menstruators' studies.
Culturally: Alienating women in what is known as period exile, girls are not allowed to socialize with people or in certain places because of beliefs or superstitions.
Loneliness: The lack of support, access, and fear of embarrassment.
In addressing period poverty, this year, The Breadfruit Collective (TBC), Guyana Girl Guides Association (GGGA), SRHR Adventures, The Avyanna Foundation (TAF) and The University of Guyana Female Empowerment Movement (UG FEM) joined forces to host Guyana’s first expo solely on highlighting issues on menstrual health. The Expo raised awareness of the challenges menstruators in Guyana have faced in regards to access, taboos and stigmas. Each organization focused on different topics related to menstruation through panel discussion and information booths. The topics highlighted included reproductive health, menopause, collecting data on period menstruation in Guyana, various types of menstrual products available on the Guyanese’ market, reusable alternatives, menstrual syndromes such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and local initiatives relating to period poverty in Guyana. In attendance were importers and distributors of period products in Guyana. The event was held publicly at the Guyana Girls Guide Association Pavilion and attracted attendees of all ages and genders.
This year, the event was observed under the theme #WeAreCommitted and this could not be more true for the coordinating team, who are committed to breaking the stigma of menstruation across Guyana. Through the success of the event and response from attendees, the coordinating team has agreed that this event should be held annually. A commitment was made in supporting each other in whatever capacity as they work within their respective organisation to carry out their mandates on menstruation, period poverty and access. Coordinating between five groups is no easy task, however the groups found commonality within their mission to break the period taboo, and in understanding that through partnership more can be done.
The Menstrual Health and Hygiene Expo represented a milestone for TBC in emphasizing its work in gender justice and expanding the conversation on Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE). TBC strongly believes that CSEs should be a part of the school curriculums. However, it acknowledges the roles taken on by groups to share information so that the public can benefit. Education is a key factor in addressing menstrual health and period poverty for everyone, regardless of whether they menstruate or not. As part of its activities at the Expo, TBC has launched a survey to collect data on menstruation, period poverty, and access in Guyana. All people are encouraged to complete the survey, whether they menstruate or not.
The overall awareness of menstrual hygiene and period poverty creates opportunities for people across the globe to expand their insight and create a positive impact. Eliminating period poverty would address health, environmental, educational, cultural, and most importantly, human rights concerns.