OK, that’s not the exact title of the report I’m going to write about, but I hope it got your attention. During my India trip on the Great Wash Yatra with WASHUnited, I spent a considerable amount of time in the MHM Lab. MHM stands for Menstrual Hygiene Management, and the Lab was actually a colourful tent sponsored and run by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, a UN agency with responsibility for improving sanitation, through the work of its members. WSSCC is now focusing hard on menstrual hygiene management, and quite rightly, because if you thought sanitation was in a dire state, menstrual hygiene is worst. Most girls and women in developing countries have no access to cheap, hygienic sanitary materials. They use cloths, old saris, scraps of anything, cotton-wool. Because they are ashamed, they dry them in secret and therefore unhygienically – drying cloth under a bed does not ensure the removal of bacteria, unlike drying cloth in sunlight. Because of the pervasive shame and taboo and stigma, 73% of girls and women who attended the MHM Lab in six Indian states told researchers they had had no idea what to expect when they started bleeding. No-one, not even their mothers, had told them what to expect. Many thought they were injured, some thought they were dying.
It gets no better as they get older. School-girls scared of smelling or having nowhere to change or dispose of cloths, often choose to drop out. Up to a quarter of Indian schoolgirls drop out of school when they reach puberty. A quarter! Any educationalist would be dumbfounded to think that they could raise attendance rates by a quarter just by installing decent latrines and wash-rooms. In the workplace, women factory workers often stay away from work for up to 6 days a month when they have their period, because they don’t know how to manage it outside the house.
I have written a report for WSSCC, Celebrating Womanhood, which contains these facts and many many more. I tried to make it as readable as possible, and that wasn’t difficult when the meeting that the report arose from, on March 8, featured plenty of fascinating and forthright speakers. Here is the link to the pdf.