There’s an awesome article up at Jezebel called “What Life is Like When Getting Your Period Means Being Shunned” that goes into detail about the nature of “red tents” – that is, the practice of women removing themselves from the family home while they’re menstruating.
But then this line just screamed at me:
“They had struggled for years without toilets, but when they began to menstruate, it got too difficult. It was easier to drop out.”
Because this is one of those examples of why *just* providing girls with an education doesn’t always work. There is all the other stuff – expectations of them doing chores at home, concerns about chastity, desirability, finances, sexual harassment and violence, but over and above that, there is the simple issue of hygiene.
The quote in context:
The specific health impacts of poor menstrual hygiene have been little explored. Anecdotally, the use of unhygienic menstrual protection has been linked to reproductive tract infections such as bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis, as well as secondary infertility, urinary tract infections and anaemia. Yet a 2013 survey of existing research literature found that evidence to support any link between poor menstrual hygiene and these conditions was “weak and contradictory”. “Raising awareness regarding menstruation and hygienic practices,” the authors wrote in their conclusion, “has remained largely a neglected area in terms of research, despite its increasing popularity amongst public health organisations.”
There are other costs. A PlanIndia study in 2010 found that 23 per cent of Indian girls dropped out of school permanently when they reached puberty, and that girls missed school for an average five days a month each for the lack of decent sanitation or menstrual products. Their schools had no toilets or disgusting ones, or there was no privacy. They had struggled for years without toilets, but when they began to menstruate, it got too difficult. It was easier to drop out.
We know already that better-educated girls are less likely to die in childbirth or of HIV/AIDS, are more likely to use contraception, are more likely to know about good child nutrition, and generally have a better chance of a healthy and productive life. As such, any sign that school dropouts are linked to menstrual hygiene should have government officials in education, development, empowerment and health rushing to build safe toilets and talk loudly and frankly about periods – if they weren’t as hampered by taboo as those women in their petticoats performing rituals to right imaginary fault.
I’ve been teaching feminist theory this past winter and so am always thinking about why it is that so many people seem to think feminism is now unnecessary or unneeded. And while I am astonished that anyone could say that kind of thing about women in the global north — especially with these misogynist politicians passing draconian rules and laws – but the global south still faces other issues.