Menstruation matters…period

I remember when I first got my period. It was during the school holidays and I was staying in my parents’ old beach house. I was almost 15 and what you might call a “late bloomer”. My first reaction was shock (what the hell is this?!), then excitement (finally, I got it, can’t wait to tell the girls at school), then anguish (what do I do now? Uh oh, awkward conversation with mum coming up).

Like a lot of teenagers, I found many conversations difficult – and topics like menstruation were particularly hard. But when I told my mother in a sheepish voice, “I think I just got my period” she had a brilliant reaction – she hugged me and her eyes welled up with tears, “you’re becoming a woman” she told me, as she rushed to the local supermarket to stock up on sanitary pads and celebratory chocolate.

We then spent the next few hours snacking on chocolate as she gave me the down low on things like how to wear a pad, how to deal with leakage, and how to handle the cramps. While it’s a pretty ideal scenario for most girls – to have a supportive figure around to help them navigate their first period – it is unfortunately very uncommon.

In many cultures, menstruation is not talked about. It can be seen as dirty or impure and the silence around it can lead to a lack of knowledge, which can generate damaging misconceptions.

In a recent study involving nearly 100,000 girls in India, almost half of them did not know about menstruation until the first time they got their period. Many girls think that they are dying or have a horrible disease the first time they menstruate, as the pain and blood causes confusion and worry.

But menstruation is a healthy and normal part of most women’s lives. On average, we spend 3,000 days in our lifetime menstruating. Roughly half the female population (that’s around 26% of the total population) are of a reproductive age and the majority spend between 2 – 7 days menstruating each month.

Menstrual hygiene matters – not just to the women and girls who are menstruating, but to the whole of society. Here’s how:

  • Menstruation matters to education: When schools have the right facilities and education materials – they can help girls manage their menstruation with pride and dignity, and contribute to better education, gender equality and health outcomes.
  • MENstruation matters to boys and men too: Taboos are created by the whole of society – in order to break the silence around menstrual hygiene, we need boys and men to also start speaking about periods. When my colleague Emily was in Sierra Leone doing menstrual hygiene research, she noticed a lot of the girls were worried about going to school when they had their period was because boys would tease them or think they were dirty.  We need to put the MEN back into menstruation – great pun aside, we seriously need to get boys and men involved in breaking the silence on periods.
  • Menstruation matters to health: many girls and women can’t afford sanitary napkins or cloths and often rely on unsafe materials, like newspaper, that can cause infection. In some cases, the cloth might be adequate but there are no facilities to keep the cloth clean enough to reuse it.
  • Menstruation matters for progress: improving menstrual hygiene can have a profound effect on girls and women, as it can help unlock progress related to health, education and gender equality.
  • YOU matter to menstruation: yes – that’s right, you. Whether you get your period or not, you can play an important role in breaking the silence around menstruation. Strike up a conversation, share a story, ask a question or simply just put it out there – Menstruation Matters!

On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, I encourage you to share why Menstruation Matters to you with the whole world. Use the hashtag #MenstruationMatters and see what others have to say. You can also share your story in the comments below.

Philippa Lysaght is a WASH Communications Specialist in Public Advocacy, Division of Communication, UNICEF.

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Comments:

  1. When I got the first period it was at school and I had to come back early with ashamed because some blood on my skirt. Even I knew that means i am not a kid more but getting a woman and my mum did not say something but I could she on her face saying”you are a woman now” different with my aunt said that I am too fast for it and not good senses. 13 years old said too fast and she warned my mum,, think I will be pregnant” it was so funny. Taboo and dirty and no education about menstruation can be seen in my story too. I am happy to read this article I wonder i have a daughter and how I tell my her about this case before and she has been have period. It would be wonderful “)

  2. Great move Unicef!! Have you thought of talking about the “cup” instead of pads?? It is re-usable and very hygienic!! It does need water to be cleaned but I think it would be much better for everyone to use this!! Anyways – good job on raising awareness already!!

  3. This is indeed a helpful and eye opening topic. Mensturation is a big deal to girls, esp the ones at my school where i teach. It seems its.a taboo to.be talking about it and boys really make it even worse. We have a high case of girls messing thier chairs probably biegn caused by lack of sanitary wear. Is there any other alternative method that can be used by those who cant afford the sanitary pads.

  4. all mothers should please englight their children on their mentrual period and never to shy away from it. even fathers are not left out in this. my prayer is our future will not be destroy in Jesus name.

  5. Hats off to Philippa Lysaght for breaking the silence of “Menstruation – pride and dignity of the society!”
    YES …Menstruation is the pride and dignity of the society because healthy MENSTRUATION leads to healthy woman, healthy women leads to healthy baby ultimately healthy baby leads to healthy SOCIETY!!
    YES…Menstruation Matters for a HEALTHY society!!

  6. When after marriage I had period than my in laws and husband suddenly change they create ashamed for me. They told me that u would use to sit on the floor even in cold. Don’t touch everything on the home including utensils, clothes and all other things. After using utensils they used fire for cleaning utensils. In these days I really feel bad for me and all other women and girls who faced the problem in their homes. Even in my parents home everything is normal.

  7. I started my periods at the age of 13yrs, I was terrified and thought that my intestine must have burst as I ate lot of spices. I was crying and screaming in the washroom. I only wanted my father to come but he had left for office, since I didn’t have a mother, my best friend came when my two brothers (elder and younger to me) inform her how crazy I was behaving. She had periods already and came in to rescue from the situation. As i had created such a scene, my father and brothers knew what was happening. I was uncomfortable but my father tried his best to do the period talk and explain why it happens, he hardly knew anything…I realise now but he was the one who bought me sanitary pads, provided warm water when I had cramps and pampered with fruits & chocolates during my mensuration cycle. I am blessed to have such a wonderful father who did all this for but I really wonder how other girls deal who doesn’t have motherly figure or best girl friend to guide them. Men should be educated too about the mensuration cycle and what really goes on as many still dont know and often freak out. Now its almost 10yrs since my period started and in emergency, even my younger brother gets me sanitary pad, I think he will too grow up to be like my father.