By Leandra Rhodes September 20, 2019
On September 6, 2019, a 14-year-old girl in Nairobi, Kenya, got her period for the first time. She didn’t have any sanitary products, and she bled through her uniform. Her teacher, a woman, called her “dirty” and kicked her out of class.
Later that day, that 14-year-old girl killed herself.
I am a woman. I menstruate. Billions of other women on the planet do the same. If this concept shocks and offends you, then you should probably stop reading. If it shocks and offends you to talk about how women around the world are affected by lack of sanitary products and proper sanitation, limiting their access to education and their quality of life, then you should probably stop reading.
Still there? Are you not offended by one of the most natural and uncontrollable things on the planet? Good.
There are a lot of levels to this post, as there are a lot of levels to menstrual health, many of which I’m sure I’ll miss here. First, let’s talk about different menstrual products, the most common of which are pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and absorbent underwear. The options appeal to different preferences, but also to different accessibilities. Many people are drawn to reusable options, like the cup or absorbent underwear, but the fact is that these options can’t work for everyone, everywhere.
Photo sourced from 
Let’s get real open here for a minute: I use a cup, specifically the Diva cup. I won’t lie, I love it. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of even trying it, but then I was hooked. I recommend it to everyone I can. I find it far more comfortable, far more convenient, and far cheaper than most other products on the market. It’s a one-time $40 (CAD) expense that is supposed to last up to 10 years! Oh, and far less risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Oh, ya, that. As if we didn’t already have enough to deal with, our periods can also inadvertently poison us. Excellent.
Right – the cup. Like I said, big fan; however, there are some downsides. While one-time-use tampons and pads produce more waste, cups and underwear use more water for cleaning. Plus, cups aren’t always the best in certain situations: if you’re traveling and staying in places with shared bathrooms, it’s not an easy thing to use. If you live somewhere where you don’t have access to safe and reliable water to wash it with, it’s not an easy thing to use. In that case, pads and tampons may be preferred. But what happens in areas where there’s little to no reliable water, but also very poor access to other menstrual products? What happens when there’s a shortage, like there has been in Kenya since early 2019? What happens when the products are recalled because they don’t meet standards, and a country with few other accepted options is left scrambling?
Great questions. Few answers. One initiative to highlight is called Heels4Pads, happening in Nairobi. Heels4Pads allows women to purchase high heels in exchange for pads which are then donated to girls and women who need them.
Next, let’s talk about sanitation, and how a lack of basic sanitation can greatly affect women’s health and education rates.
Is that something you would have thought of on your own?
In many areas around the world, basic sanitation is severely lacking and things like pit latrines are commonplace. If not managed properly, these options can be very unsafe and people risk disease every time they use one. Most at risk are children, particularly girls while menstruating. In some areas of the world, toilets at schools are so unsanitary that the girls will stay home for one week of every month so that they can manage their period in relative safety. One week of every month that they are missing school…This contributes to years of lost education and lower graduation rates among women.
And then there’s shame. Period shame. Shame that pushes some to suicide. Shame about one of the most natural things on the planet, and an important process in eventually creating new life. How dare anyone shame us for that. And considering all the other issues that are already part of menstrual hygiene, do we really want to add shame, often caused by a lack of education and understanding, to this?
End. Period. Shame.