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Empowering Underwear

Do you remember having your period during your school years? What was it like? Did you feel prepared, or rather, equipped? Maybe you were sneaking to the bathroom with your heart beating a little faster, asking around for pads or tampons when you forgot them, worrying about staining your pants. Perhaps sometimes things got a bit messy, but generally there was always someone around that could help you out with some hygiene products and the bathrooms were never that far away. 

Can you imagine how your life would be affected if you didn’t have the resources to manage menstruation comfortably every month? I mean, we’re on our period for approximately 10 years of our life in total – that’s a lot. 

To be honest, I never really thought about this until I had to make a poster at university dedicated to a societal issue related to one of the SDGs. We had to come up with a topic ourselves and one of my team members raised the matter of menstrual health. In the beginning I was a bit uncertain about it. Perhaps I too felt somehow uncomfortable talking about periods publicly. But we dove into it and the more I read, the more I realized how important it really is to talk about this. 

Lack of access to hygiene products to comfortably manage your period (commonly referred to as period poverty) is, unfortunately, a reality for many women worldwide. This is definitely not limited to lower-income countries or remote areas. To give a few examples, there are reports from 2017 stating that 65% of women in Kenya are not able to afford menstrual hygiene products. In India and Bangladesh women improvise with old rags and cloths to manage their periods. In the UK, one out of ten girls does not have the money to buy sanitary products.

What’s not helping either are the many cultural stigmas and taboos around menstruation. For example, nearly half of girls in the UK aged between 14-21 are embarrassed about their period. In Tanzania, more than 80% of girls fear being teased, especially by male classmates. This fear is associated with a lack of access to hygiene products and insufficient practices. The remaining stigmas and taboos around menstruation can hinder the sharing of relevant information and can prevent women from seeking help. Misconceptions and lack of knowledge can result in girls entering their menstruation unprepared and developing incorrect and unhealthy habits around menstruation. This comes with many negative implications, such as stress, discomfort, shame and an increased risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections. 

But what strikes me the most is the huge long-term consequences this can have on the life of a woman. The lack of resources, stigmas and taboos lead to women withholding themselves from daily activities, such as work and school. In Tanzania, 48% of the girls miss 2-4 days of school every month, meaning that a girl can miss a substantial part of her education if she doesn’t have the means to manage her period. Imagine how systematically missing classes results in learning delays and decreases girls’ opportunities, further reinforcing already existing gender inequalities. 

Hence, the improvement of menstrual health around the world is extremely important. Not only to boost women’s empowerment, health and well-being, but also educational and economic achievements. Awareness is the first step, action is the next. Which is exactly why I love contributing to Moja’s mission: making good hygiene a reality for everyone

By helping Moja with marketing, communications and reaching out to brand ambassadors, I get to spread the word about Moja and raise awareness about these important topics, which has been a rewarding experience over the last months. Moja’s activities in Tanzania address so many of the previously mentioned issues. Providing children with underwear and menstruation products can increase school attendance and give them more confidence and comfort during their periods. At the same time, education for both girls and boys on topics such as puberty, hygiene and health helps to create a better understanding of their body, its processes and good health practices. By involving the community in conversations, stigma and taboos can be reduced and broken. 

Moja is still small, but I believe its impact can be huge.

Tell me, how much more empowering can a pair of underwear get?

Resources:

[1] FSG. (2016). Menstrual Health in Kenya | Country Landscape Analysis https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FSG-Menstrual-Health-Landscape_Kenya.pdf

[2] FSG. (2016). Menstrual Health in India | Country Landscape Analysis https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FSG-Menstrual-Health-Landscape_India.pdf

[3] Haque, S. E., Rahman, M., Itsuko, K., Mutahara, M., & Sakisaka, K. (2014). The effect of a school-based educational intervention on menstrual health: an intervention study among adolescent girls in Bangladesh. BMJ open, 4(7). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24993753/

[4] Plan UK. (2017). Plan International UKs research on period poverty and stigma. https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/plan-international-uks-research-on-period-poverty-and-stigma

[5] Benshaul-Tolonen, A., Aguilar-Gomez, S., Heller Batzer, N., Cai, R., & Nyanza, E. C. (2020). Period teasing, stigma and knowledge: A survey of adolescent boys and girls in Northern Tanzania. PloS one, 15(10). https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0239914

[6] UNICEF. (2019). Guidance on Menstrual Health and Hygiene.  https://www.unicef.org/wash/files/UNICEF-Guidance-menstrual-health-hygiene-2019.pdf

[7] Jewitt, S., & Ryley, H. (2014). It’s a girl thing: Menstruation, school attendance, spatial mobility and wider gender inequalities in Kenya. Geoforum, 56, 137-147. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016718514001638

[8] Gabrielsson, S. (2018). Towards Sustainable Menstrual Health Management in Tanzania: Policy Brief from Lund University Centre for Sustainable Studies. Lund University. https://www.lucsus.lu.se/sites/lucsus.lu.se/files/policy_brief_mhm_saragabrielsson.pdf