Taking on the taboo of menstruation

Subject: Taking on the taboo of menstruation
From: Michelle Lowery
Date: 28 Jan 2015

As Rose George writes, it is not only female athletes who face the “taboo” of menstruation (Let’s stop being so bloody-minded about menstruation, 23 January). Across the developing world women struggle during their periods. From not being able to afford sanitary pads or tampons to being hidden away while they bleed, the impact can be devastating.

ActionAid often hears of girls being pulled out of school for a week at a time because their families cannot afford protection or even because there are not enough toilets. In refugee camps, a young girl or woman who has fled her home with few or no belongings has limited access to water or soap and has to travel long distances to communal toilets. When she gets her period, the chances are she has no sanitary products. She has to cope with this on top of everything else. These are some of the reasons why we donate sanitary kits as a matter of course during conflict and disaster as a way of helping women maintain their dignity, and why in Africa we teach young girls how to make their own sanitary pads.

Yet when we started advertising some of these facts on London Underground the reaction and subsequent debate astounded us. People were divided. Many applauded and thousands donated, but some – normally men – questioned whether this was important. We were also challenged on why we were even talking about periods, despite the impact on women’s wellbeing. It is obvious there is still a long way to go, even in the UK, before we are comfortable talking about an issue that affects half the world. It is important that this changes.