I can’t see the colour of my menstruation blood, the maiden speaker, a disabled woman presented the feelings of a blind girl. Some NGOs jointly organised the seminar on the occasion of the National Menstrual Hygiene Day at LGERD Auditorium, Dhaka on 1st June, 2017.Women present rekindled their past memories about taboos on menstruation.
The keynote speaker, also a disabled adolescent girl, described how limited mobility makes her life full of struggle and how menstruation pushes her two steps back.
Most of the women and girls generally used old rag, unhygienic substances such as leaves, sand, sawdust, mattress foam and even ash to stem their monthly bleeding. Menstruating girls are unable to go to school during their periods and absenteeism influences them to drop out of school.
Statistics shows girls miss on an average 3 days of school each month because of their periods. Some drop out entirely because they lack access to sanitary products. 86 % girls have no place to change their sanitary menstrual materials at school.
Mina [not real name] was afraid when she had her first period. She had to stay home from school for 7 days and was not allowed to touch books and sit together for dinner with family members. This situation is common in rural Bangladesh.
After all, menstruation affects educational access of girls. Lack of education not only affects girls, it impacts on the whole community. When a girl receives education and marries later, she can have healthier children and is less likely to face sexual violence.
The issue is not a concern of just women and girls. Better menstruation management can help the national economy and wider society. World Bank  published a report in which it is said that with every 1% increase in the proportion of women with secondary education, a country’s [Bangladesh included] annual per capita income grows by 0.3%. Closing the unemployment gap between adolescent girls and boys would result in an up to 1.2% increase in GDP in a year. So, girls’ health, safety and livelihoods are closely connected with education.
The Chief Guest of the seminar, Secretary, ministry of women and children affairs, listened from audiences and categorically mentioned about the government initiatives in this respect. Some local sanitary napkin producers would be created to provide low cost sanitary napkins to poor women and adolescent girls, said the chief guest.
We have a low cost sanitary napkin “kishory” [adolescent girl] project that has had real impacts. The project is of the women and designed by women and for the women. The project aims at producing local sanitary napkin entrepreneurs who are considered change makers in proper menstruation behaviour. Adolescent girls of poor families who are likely to stop education or get married at an early age are selected by the entrepreneurs.
Hope for the Poorest (HP) is a non-profit organisation and sister concern of ASA, world renowned micro-finance institution in Bangladesh. HP organises meetings with school teachers, group discussions with students (girls and boys), experience sharing meetings with women networks [beneficiary groups] across the country and consultation meetings with health and business community. We create a scope of napkin market that is handed over to entrepreneurs.
The result of the project has so far been promising. Entrepreneurs produce low cost sanitary napkins and deliver them to women of beneficiary groups, local clinic / hospitals, cosmetic shops and kishory corner of schools. Every woman of the beneficiary groups is now community sales agents and raises their family income as entrepreneurs do.
After the project started, knowledge and awareness about menstrual hygiene management has deepened. All male and female participants of the campaign or meeting regretted for the social stigma around menstruation.
We notice a process of awareness transfer from participants to their families and friends. Parents are becoming habituated with daily hygiene practices at their households. Mothers are keener than their daughters to learn about menstrual hygiene management. One mother said, “I was worried about my daughter’s schooling at the menstruation time. But she makes me happy and informs me about proper menstruation.”
At the beginning of the project we faced many challenges. Women and girls were reluctant to speak publicly that they have menstruation. Some community male colleagues did not show interest either in participation or private discussion. They thought menstruation is a secret matter of women and a kind of disease. When asked why they believe this, they had only two words to say – know nothing. When asked a woman about her hesitation on menstruation, her low voice answer was, “I don’t like community people to talk about my family;” adolescent girls also told us, “We don’t talk with men about these things”.
The long practiced social norms are changing, but not as fast as we expect. It is a good sign that entrepreneurs are changing them. Moving forward, we are planning to publicly present that menstruation is a critical gender issue. Menstrual hygiene is a critical entry point for talking about sexual health. So we think only women and girls are not enough to change the menstrual habit; boys must be agents of change too.
Regular menstruation is essential to be a mother that every girl expects. Let’s talk about period and welcome the girl who has her first period.
Md. Mahiul Kadir, Executive Director,
Hope for the Poorest