People Are Finally Talking About the Thing Nobody Wants to Talk About

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

When Elynn Walter walks into a room of officials from global health organizations and governments, this is how she likes to get their attention:

“I’ll say, ’OK, everyone stand up and yell the word blood!’ or say, ’Half of the people in the world have their period!’ “

It’s her way of getting people talking about a topic that a lot of people, well, aren’t comfortable talking about: menstrual hygiene.

Walter is an activist whose mission is to improve hygiene in low-income countries. She works with the group WASH Advocates (WASH stands for “water, sanitation and hygiene”). Her issue is critical. Across the developing world, tens of millions of girls face major difficulties managing their monthly period. According to UNICEF, more than half the schools in the poorest countries lack private toilets. And unlike teenage girls in well-off countries, many in the developing world can’t afford (or even find) tampons and pads.

But addressing the problem is a challenge, says Walter, because even otherwise level-headed experts on poverty tend to get squeamish when the talk turns to periods. In fact, Walter thinks the squeamishness over menstrual hygiene is a big reason why global health and development advocates ignored the subject for decades.

“It’s not that it wasn’t an issue,” she says. “But it was just one of those things that no one was talking about. It was viewed as more of a feminist issue or just something that women should think about in the privacy of their own home, behind closed doors.”

Now there’s a gathering effort to change that, at least partly due to the work of a growing number of researchers who, starting about a decade ago, began studying the impact of menstrual hygiene challenges on girls’ lives.

Marni Sommer was among the first.

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)

Categories
Health Care
Tags
global health, health care, sanitation, Women