“In India, one in ten girls think that menstruation is a disease” (Juliette Bénet, spokeswoman for Plan International France)

(ETX Daily Up) – In India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia or Uganda… In many countries around the world, regulations hinder the education of young girls. On the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day which falls on 28 May, Juliette Bénet, spokeswoman for Plan International France, told more about the actions NGOs are taking in developing countries. .

In France, one in two girls has missed school because of menstruation, according to a new OpinionWay survey conducted by Plan International France on the occasion world menstrual hygiene day.

In developing countries such as Uganda or Bangladesh, the situation is more worrying: girls miss an average of five days of school each month because of menstruation. In India, three-quarters of them miss classrooms when they are menstruating.

Some of them are even forced to leave school (particularly in rural areas), which restricts their rights and exposes them to forced marriages, early pregnancydomestic work and exploitation.

The various stigmas that persist around menstruation contribute to strengthening the taboo (including in France), to a more or less marked degree depending on the country. A systemic and multifactorial scourge that extends to all regions of the planet explains Juliette Bénet, spokeswoman for the NGO Plan International France, which works in countries such as Uganda, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

What are the different factors that hinder the health and safety of menstruation for young girls in developing countries?

There are two main aspects. The first concerns stereotypes and prejudices about menstruation. This stigma around menstruation is closely linked to cultural and patriarchal norms that exclude girls from daily activities, with consequences for their health, well-being, dignity and social integration.

In Nepal, we unfortunately see the practice of “chhaupadi” continuing, despite a government ban since 2005. Based on the idea that menstruation is “unclean”, “cursed” or even “dangerous”, chhaupadi forces girls and young women to isolate themselves . in the hut when they were menstruating. They are not allowed to participate in religious activities, touch food, animals or people.

This ancestral practice is still a concern of 89% of young Nepalese and has dramatic consequences. One of them, for example, died in a fire in 2017, after trying to light a fire in his hut to warm himself…

The second aspect is material. More specifically, it is menstrual poverty. It exists in Western Europe, but is found on a much larger scale in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In Bangladesh, for example, sanitary protection is very expensive and families cannot afford it. Therefore, girls are forced to use old paper or sheets without the possibility of changing them regularly, which can lead to serious infections.

How to explain that, even in the most developed industrialized countries, menstrual crunch and social stigma persist, causing some young girls to skip school?

Even if the scale is not the same, there is also a high level of stereotypes in France. According to our survey, more than half of young French girls questioned (55%) considered menstruation to be a taboo subject at school.

These beliefs, accepted ideas and fears come mainly from a lack of knowledge. In Afghanistan, for example, more than half of girls know they have a period the first time they have their period. In Malawi, this figure rises to 82%! In India, one in ten girls consider menstruation to be a disease.

What different lever actions did you take to fix this?

Our approach is to provide a primordial place for education. On the ground, we work with parents, but also with the community and school staff. The goal is to encourage positive communication about menstruation, so that it is no longer synonymous with taboo and shame.

Plan International is conducting awareness raising operations to explain to young girls how their bodies work, to explain to them that menstruation is a natural phenomenon, that they should not be ashamed or afraid of it. We also include boys in this program, so that society as a whole can benefit from this education. Indeed, stereotypes are often conveyed by boys. Therefore, it is important to integrate them to counter this phenomenon of exclusion and ridicule.

We also act on the health and material aspects, with clean sanitation facilities where girls can go safely. We also held workshops to make their own menstrual protection and reusable underwear to ensure better menstrual management for girls and youth. It is also a way to reduce the pollution associated with single-use protection.

How can we act at our level, as citizens, to help fight this scourge?

Of course, it is possible to make donations to NGOs like us who are fighting for this cause, both financially and materially, for example by providing periodic protection. There are also citizen initiatives such as the project “Let’s change the rules“, launched by the young woman Horoh in Ile-de-France with the volunteer group “Le plan des jeunes” and supported by Plan International France.

This is a fun, informative and collaborative workshop held in a secondary school in Ile-de-France to address menstrual health issues: a tree of prejudices about menstruation among girls and young women in developing countries, maps for understanding the menstrual cycle, etc.

Serena Hoyles

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