It’s likely that some of us in this room are not able to relate to the issue that I am exploring in this speech. But this is precisely why this needs to be heard.
Menstruation is a natural part of life which is experienced by females from around 13-50, who constitute about 26% of the population. But yet according to The World Bank in 2018, at least 500 million women globally lack the necessary hygiene facilities for menstruation hygiene management. This necessary hygiene facility is defined to be as simple as a water point and a place to dispose of their pads. 500, million, women do not have water and a bin.
Taboo is an Adelaide formed social enterprise who are dedicated “To ensure that women all over the globe have access to safe menstrual hygiene products, and the appropriate education to deal with their menstrual health”.
Taboo was the chosen name for this social enterprise because this subject is just that… a taboo. Without open conversation and normalisation of this natural process, we cannot take the next step to ensuring that women around the world will be able to be provided with the necessary education and sanitation.
It shocked me to learn that only 10% of women and girls in Sierra Leone had ever heard of a sanitary pad. Only 17% of female students in Burkina Faso and 23% in Niger have a place to change their sanitary materials at school.
These figures were sourced by Taboo.
But why is this all so important?
This issue is important to me, so much so that I interviewed Taboo in preparation for this speech and asked them what the world would look like if all females had access to female sanitation, to which they said that “if all females had access to appropriate and safe menstrual products and support, they would be far more practically equipped and empowered to pursue things like education, work and community development.”
Unfortunately, this is not the case for girls in developing countries where currently up to ’30% of girls end up dropping out of school when they get their period’. This is because these girls don’t have a seperate toilet at their school where they can change their materials and stay clean. Therefore going to school while on their period can be stressful, with bleeding and discomfort. This makes going to school a vulnerable experience that many girls will shy away from and choose to stay at home instead.
It has been estimated that in India as many as 1 in 5 girls drop out of school after they commence their periods. A lack of education for women is detrimental to economic independence and gender equality, especially in the workplace. The deprivation of education is a violation of human rights.
With support from social enterprises like Taboo, it is clear that change can be achieved. It is clear that this is an issue that can be helped. This is not a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue. The lack of adequate sanitation for females around the world is not only of detriment to their health, but also continues to create a ripple effect, preventing them from obtaining a complete education and therefore decreases their ability for equal representation and treatment in the workplace and society as a whole. A woman’s future earnings grow with every extra year of primary education. When a girl receives education, she marries later, has fewer, healthier children and is less likely to experience sexual violence.
Why should someone be held back from fulfilling their potential because of a natural process that they cannot control? Why should this human rights issue be silenced? Why are so many still suffering unnecessarily, when so many could be helped so easily?
But what can we do?
This is a code red. This issue needs to be known. The stigma which surrounds menstrual health needs to be broken. This is not dirty or embarrassing, it is a natural process which affects women globally. It affects some to the extent of forcing them to choose between their education and their health. And as I said before, many are choosing their health, with 30% of girls in developing countries, dropping out of school after they get their period. Making sanitary kits or funding companies and groups who do, can be the difference that one girl needs to be able to go to school. Education of how to make re-usable sanitary materials is the best option that can be put in place to provide a long-term solution to these girls in need.
It is clear that the absence of appropriate sanitary supplies has a direct link and negative impact on the education of women in developing countries. This is where the change needs to take place. The work of Taboo is crucial not only to support women in this situation, but also to break down the ‘stigma’ and to normalise this conversation. To continue to treat this issue as undesirable, disgusting or even worst of all ‘unimportant’ is doing an injustice to every girl who had to miss school because of blood today.
This has to be where we end this issue, period.