The world over, the coming of age of a girl into womanhood is a significant milestone in the life of a woman. This process is known as menstruation. The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) defines menstruation as, “The process in which the uterus sheds blood and tissue through the vagina. Menstruation is a natural and healthy process for girls and women of reproductive age.” In many countries in the Global South,this significant milestone and new normal in a young woman’s life, is suddenly met with the shame that comes with the impact of the taboos and stigma surrounding menstrual absorbents.
The perplexing reality is how something so normal can become such delicate ground to tread on. People are uncomfortable speaking about menstrual absorbents, and it is usually only discussed in secret. This cultural silence contributes tremendously to the inaccurate knowledge of menstrual hygiene and the improper disposal of menstrual waste.
Menstrual absorbents are used as discrete methods to allow women to continue with their daily functions. However, in many parts of the world, women and young girls are not allowed or cannot afford menstrual absorbents. In fact, because of such restraints a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report estimates that at least 1 in 10 in Sub-Saharan African girls miss school during their menstrual cycle because they do not have access to menstrual products. This is compounded by the fact that women must also try to find feasible options to dispose of the menstrual absorbent waste that, in many cases, are harmful to the environment. Furthermore, women must find viable disposable options that do not conflict with their culture.
In the article, “Blood flows: mapping journeys of menstrual waste in Blantyre, Malawi'' by Heather Roxburgh, Caron Magombo, Tamandani Kaliwo, Elizabeth A. Tilley, Kate Hampshire, David M. Oliver & Richard S. Quilliam, share their research findings on the type of menstrual absorbates used and how and where the products are disposed. This study is of great significance because it highlights how menstrual waste affects the environment in a low-income country. Additionally, its findings can help advocate for affordable biodegradable alternatives to disposable menstrual absorbents.
Another factor to note, is the challenge that women in the rural areas of low-income countries often face, when having to use outdoor bathrooms. The restroom facilities are not designed to accommodate menstruating women, and they are intended only to keep the fecal matter out of the water supplies. This leaves the women and girls with two options that are not necessarily viable: First, is carrying their used unsanitary absorbents with them, or second, disposing of the products in the bivouac area, leading to flooding and is an environmental problem.
Blood flows: mapping journeys of menstrual waste in Blantyre, Malawi, Cities & Health, DOI: 10.1080/23748834.2021.1916330
UNFPA, June 2021 “Menstruation and human rights - Frequently asked questions”
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Section of HIV and Health Education- Audrey Kettaneh, Scott Pulizzi and Marina Todesco, based on a background report by Dr Marni Sommer, Carla Sutherland and Susan Woo (2014), Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management
Heather Roxburgh, Caron Magombo, Tamandani Kaliwo, Elizabeth A. Tilley, Kate Hampshire, David M. Oliver & Richard S. Quilliam (2021) Blood flows: mapping journeys of menstrual waste in Blantyre, Malawi, Cities & Health,DOI: 10.1080/23748834.2021.1916330
United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), June 2021 “Menstruation and human rights - Frequently asked questions” https://www.unfpa.org/menstruationfaq#what%20is%20menstruation%20and%20its%20cycle.