The Period Taboo: A Universal Problem
AdvocacyEducation, Water Sanitation & Hygiene,
17th Feb 2021
The period taboo is a sexist stereotype that affects almost all girls and women around the world. Here is a little tour of the world explaining the daily and concrete impacts of this universal taboo. And what you can do to fight this injustice!
Girls and women face stigma and bans when they have their period
In many countries, women are considered unclean when they have their period.
- In Nepal and India, women do not have the right to touch food or crops because they could cause bad luck to their families and communities.
- Girls in Bolivia are told that period blood can cause serious illnesses, such as cancer, in other people.
The myths surrounding periods play an important role in the place of women in their community as well as in the perception that women have of themselves.
- In India, for example, violence recently erupted over the Indian Supreme Court's decision to revoke the ancestral, gender-based ban on menstruating women from entering certain religious temples.
- In Western countries too, the taboo and the invisibility of periods persist. It is not normal that today, 44% of French women and 58% of Americans feel ashamed during their period. Source SCA Group survey, 2017 & Think, 2018
The period taboo kills
In Nepal or Vanuatu, for example, girls and women are socially excluded or even exiled from their homes. Isolated in makeshift shelters, exposed to the elements and attacks, women die every year.
A fight for the dignity and health of girls and women
Taboos and false beliefs create an environment where women and girls are deprived of a fundamental right: the right to their hygiene and health.
- In Afghanistan, women are told that they cannot shower during their period or they will become sterile.
- Across the world, over 500 million girls and women have no access to sanitary protection at all. In Morocco, Bangladesh or elsewhere, they are forced to use tea towels, sheets, newspaper, pieces of mattresses or even mud. Hygienic and infection risks are considerable. Source: Unicef and WHO, 2015.
The first period is too often a scary thing for girls.
In too many countries, many girls have no idea of this natural phenomenon because mothers do not dare to talk about it and these issues are not addressed in school.
- In Malawi or Vanuatu, the periods must be kept secret. Parents never talk about it with their children.
- Half of the girls feel ignorant during their first period, according to a study in England.
- In the United States, 40% of American women were afraid during their first period, for lack of information on the subject. Source Diva Cup study and infographic, 2018
Because of this, many girls are horrified and shocked by this blood flowing from their bodies. Many think they are dying or that something is wrong.
Girls drop out of school when they begin their lives as women
Another consequence of this taboo is that girls drop out of school when they begin their lives as women.
- In India, 40% of the girls surveyed do not go to school when they have their period. Source JFamily Community Med Report, 2018
- In Niger and Burkina Faso, 35% of girls interviewed and 21% of girls sometimes miss school during menstruation. Source UNICEF, 2013
- These alarming figures are due in particular to the lack of separate toilets in schools, the lack of access to hygienic protection, the shame felt by young girls and the lack of information.
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