Guest Post by Danielle I. Keiser, WASH United gGmbH/Berlin, Germany

From May #MENSTRAVAGANZA to Menstrual Hygiene Day:

WASH United is Turning Up the Volume

and Helping Breaking the Silence

Did you hear about May #MENSTRAVAGANZA? It was truly menstravagant. It was the first-ever social media campaign of its kind: a 28-day awareness cycle lead by WASH United to break the silence around menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

WASH United is a Berlin-based international social impact organization that promotes safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for all. Using our expertise in innovative campaigning, positive communication, and network building, our ambition is to bring the most neglected of all WASH issues into the spotlight. Our vision is to create a world in which every woman and girl can manage her menstruation in a hygienic way — in privacy, safety, and with dignity — at home, at school, and at the workplace.

Menstruation: It happens.

Menstruation is a normal human process. Nevertheless, it is still treated as a taboo in many cultures and societies across the globe. A profound silence around the topic combined with a lack of access to information results in girls and women possessing very little understanding of their own bodies. Many are left to manage their periods in an unsafe manner, using old rags or other unhygienic and ineffective materials. The problem is exacerbated by limited access to hygienic products, safe and private sanitation facilities, inconsistent supplies of water for personal hygiene, and inadequate disposal options.

As a result, menstruating girls and women often feel ashamed and embarrassed about themselves. Facing health problems and socio-cultural taboos surrounding their periods, they become isolated from family, school, and their communities. Women and girls miss school and productive work days, thus falling behind their male counterparts.

Some facts and figures

  • 48% of girls in Iran, 10% in India, and 7% in Afghanistan believe that menstruation is a disease.[1]
  • In a survey of 747 women and girls across five states in rural India, only 30.2% of girls and women reported knowing about menstruation before they received their first period.[2]
  • Women in rural Nepal are often restricted to separate huts or cow sheds during menstruation. Other activities are also restricted, such as preparing and consuming food, socializing, traveling, and even attending school.[3]
  • In rural Nigeria, men and women may maintain separate quarters while a woman is menstruating. Some women choose to not wash their pads daily or worry about how to dispose of them out of fear they may be vulnerable to witchcraft attacks.[4]
  • A study across six rural districts in Sierra Leone schools revealed that up to 21.3% of students report missing school during their menstrual periods.[5]
  • In a study in Bangladeshi garment factories, where 80% of factory workers are women, a majority of them were using rags from the factory floor for menstrual cloths. Infections are common, leading to 73% of women missing work for an average of six unpaid days per month.[6]

If periods are such a normal and natural occurrence, why are people so afraid to talk about them or the specific needs related to managing them?

Using ‘Misses with Moustaches’ as spokesladies for May #MENSTRAVAGANZA, the idea was that, if women can have moustaches, can’t we all talk about menstruation? Throughout the campaign, questions raised by the ‘Misses in Moustaches’ included:

  • Why is there such an iron-fisted taboo around menstruation?
  • What are some harsh realities that girls and women face every time they menstruate?
  • Putting the ‘MEN’ in MENSTRAVAGANZA: who are the men working on menstrual issues and innovations in MHM
  • How is MHM more than just a ‘health’ or ‘women’s’ issue?
  • Where does it all go? How can we better understand issues of disposal?

The diversity of content ranged from recommending our favorite books on the subject (“Flow” and “The Red Tent”) to a rap about organic tampons to addressing the unnoticed challenges that girls and women with disabilities face in managing their menstruation. Throughout the campaign, we obtained 800 new fans on Facebook and over 250 new followers on Twitter. For a topic so ‘out of sight’ and unmentionable, May #MENSTRAVAGANZA took the social media world by storm!

Let’s Make the 28th of May Menstrual Hygiene Day. PERIOD.

To harvest the momentum from the campaign and recognizing the need for a wider platform for MHM advocacy, WASH United has initiated a movement to make the 28th of May in 2014 – and beyond – a globally recognized Menstrual Hygiene Day.

A day dedicated to menstrual hygiene offers the opportunity for the world to publicly recognize the right of women and girls to hygienically manage their menstruation – in privacy, safety and with dignity – at home, at school and in the workplace. It will create a united voice for women and girls around the world, breaking the silence around a taboo that prohibits many girls and women from reaching their full potential.

This day would serve as a neutral platform to create awareness for individuals, organisations and the media. It would expose the challenges and hardship many women and girls face during their menstruation and highlight the positive and innovative solutions being taken to address these challenges. Finally, it is an excellent opportunity to engage in policy dialogue and actively advocate for the integration of menstrual hygiene management into global and national policies, programs and projects.

How to Get Involved

Become a partner of Menstrual Hygiene Day by emailing us your logo as a symbol of your support. We are happy to include your logo on the website and input on the planning leading up to May 28, 2014.

As a partner for MH Day, we welcome you to contribute your time, energy and ideas to make this day a real, big deal. There is no financial obligation for getting involved and ideally your organisation already works on or plans to work on the issue.

About WASH United

Headquartered in Berlin with regional offices in Kenya and India, WASH United is an award-winning, international social impact organization that combines the power of sports superstars, interactive games and positive communication to excite people about sanitation and practicing good hygiene. WASH United has trained over 80,000 children about the importance of good sanitation and hygiene and reached over 280,000,000 people through campaigns and media. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

1. WaterAid, Menstrual Hygiene Matters, 20122. Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, 2012

3. WaterAid, Menstrual Hygiene & Management: An Issue for Adolescent Girls , 2009

4. UNICEF, WASH in Schools Empowers Girls’ Education, 2012

5. ibid.

6. HER project, from  WSSCC, Celebrating Womanhood, 2013

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