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Tampons and pads don’t grow on trees. That’s a fact. While a woman in Germany just walks around the corner to the next supermarket to buy a monthly package of sanitary products access to monthly hygiene in other countries is unfortunately much more limited. When I myself lived in Tanzania for a few months with a Catholic priest and his staff (all female and as old as I) and got my period – as part of a predictable, unstoppable life – I had to drive for hours through the dry desert to the next bigger city – just to find tampons! (I was close to bleeding on priestly car seat, Jesus Christ, what a drama.)
How do the other girls and women, with whom I lived in the savannah without electricity and running water in a corrugated iron shack, help themselves once a month?
Without a car, nor the financial means to afford the overpriced tampons from the air-conditioned supermarket for Western tourists? The sad reality: In poorer countries, many women use old pieces of cloth or paper, discarded rags or leaves during their period.
This is not only impractical and unpleasant. Above all, the risk of infection is increased. Especially in areas where access to clean water is lacking.
According to a recent study by UNHCR, more than 40 percent of girls in Nepal do not go to school during their menses – due to lack of access to adequate sanitary hygiene.
Many girls in West and Central Africa, Nepal, Iran, India, and parts of South America face some restrictions due to by poor sanitary conditions, lack of access to sanitary hygiene, and cultural myths from the first day of their period– mostly in their social life, education and employment opportunities. Missing days in school reduce their chances of graduating, they are more likely to be forced to marry, become involuntarily pregnant, and financially dependent.
According to Plan International, 20 percent of girls in India drop out of school at the start of their menses. In Malawi, 70 percent of girls miss at least one day of lessons a month – just because of their menstruation.
Period Poverty is not just about developing countries – even in Europe, many girls do not go to school during their menses. Sometimes due to pain and discomfort, but especially from shame and because tampons just simply don’t grow on trees.
According to a recent study by Plan International one in ten girls in the UK cannot afford monthly products.
Let us think about that. If you do not have access to tampons, pads, menstrual cups, or sponges, you have three options: 1. Help yourself with a scrape of cloth and run the risk of causing a nasty infection (which could even lead to infertility). 2. Just let it run, bleed on all your clothes, bus seats and classroom chairs, and become the laughing stock of your school. 3. Don’t go to school.
So. Let us be fair. If women have to bleed once a month – often with severe discomfort – they should at least have full access to what they feel is appropriate monthly hygiene.