“I was surprised by bleeding from my genitals. I did not know what it was when it first occurred. A teacher took me in a room that was next to my classroom and explained what was happening to me.”
– Adolescent girl, Rwanda
“Some girls who get their period hide so the boys don’t see them. Thy hide because their clothes will be stained with blood and they are afraid.”
– Adolescent girl, Uganda
“I can’t believe that I thought what was going on with my body was like a curse because I didn’t like menstruation. But now I know it’s normal…”
– Adolescent girl, Guatemala
These young girls’ statements during interviews for the Institute for Reproductive Health’s CycleSmart™, My Changing Body and GREAT Project initiatives are not uncommon. Chances are that you encountered rumors, misunderstanding or surprises about changes to your own body during as you were growing up. While menstruation is a normal biological process and a key sign of reproductive health, in many cultures it is treated as shameful or unclean. Evidence reveals that an accurate understanding and awareness about human fertility and the menstrual cycle is surprisingly low around the world, regardless of age, sex or education.
And particularly for young girls in many of the countries where IRH has worked, misunderstanding or misinformation leads to fear and shame. If we could lift the taboos and improve fertility awareness—actionable information about fertility through the life cycle and the ability to use this information to care for one’s own sexual and reproductive health (SRH)—we believe people would be informed and empowered to make better SRH decisions for themselves and their families.
On May 28, the first global Menstrual Hygiene Day, IRH joins with 90+ organizations to break the silence around menstruation and taboos related to our bodies, and recognize the fundamental role that menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. Bringing to light the ways menstrual hygiene impacts education, health, the economy, the environment and human rights, Menstrual Hygiene Day advocates for a world in which every woman and girl can manage her menstruation hygienically, in privacy, in safety and with dignity – where ever she is.
IRH has seen success with recent adolescent-centered reproductive health initiatives, and will continue to reinforce the need for reproductive rights, gender equality and social norms that help people develop the behaviors that have a positive effect on SRH for all. We can overcome the taboos around menstruation.
“Often we don’t know where to start in terms of talking to our kids about puberty so we just turn them away when they ask us about it. Thanks for this [CycleSmart Kit]. The children have been more open about discussing and asking questions about their SRH. It’s important that children learn early about puberty changes.” – Mother, Rwamagana, Rwanda
“We explain to other girls that menstruation is not something bad. It is a normal process that all women go through. Girls who don’t know this information about their bodies are at risk.” – Adolescent girl
“Now I know how our development works, and I can explain what happens with our bodies. People who don’t know try to instill fear in you, but I’m not afraid anymore.” – Adolescent girl
Learn more about the Menstrual Hygiene Day campaign here.
View the Menstrual Hygiene Day Infographic.
Throughout May, join the conversation using the hashtag #MenstruationMatters.
Join the #PeriodTalk Twitterchat on May 20 at 10am EST.