It is a normal part of life - but in many regions of the world it is a taboo subject. The silence around menstruation means girls in some countries stay away from school during their periods or even drop out of education.
In parts of sub-Saharan Africa and other areas of the world, girls can miss out on up to five days of school per month or stop going to school entirely because of insufficient access to water and hygiene facilities, no separate toilets for girls and a lack of sanitary supplies.
Source: Menstrual Hygiene Day
Menstrual Hygiene Day is being marked today to challenge taboos and break the silence around the subject to help girls and women get on with their lives with dignity.
Often, the sheer cost of sanitary products can be a problem. In Kenya, a pack of sanitary pad costs half the daily wage of an unskilled worker, so many girls have to use alternative methods of menstrual management.
Girls at Genesis Joy School in Nairobi learn about MHM
Schoolgirl Joyce is 15 and lives in the Mathare slum in Narobi. She said: “When I have my period, I mostly stay at home because I am not comfortable. I also have pain so I sleep a lot. I don’t like to go to school because it is very bad if I stain my dress.”
Her head teacher at Genesis Joy School, Madame Beatrice, said: “It is very difficult for the girls in school because buying sanitary pads in Mathare is very difficult.
Educational video from the charity Irise International
"I see them miss school often so I try and help them but it is hard. Many work jobs such as domestic help and laundry to make money and so they come to school very tired. Sometimes they just stop coming."
The charity Plan International is building separate toilets for boys and girls in India, so girls have a private space to go to when they are menstruating. It is also training teachers and health workers, as well as distributing menstrual health hygiene materials in schools, holding community theatre shows and hosting radio shows on the topic.
Darren Saywell, Plan International USA’s Director of Water, Sanitation and Health, said: “Many girls around the world still lack access to affordable hygienic menstrual products.
“Girls also lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual product."
In Kenya, UN Women is supporting a state initiative to give almost 500,000 schoolgirls access to free sanitary towels. Education Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi said the project would greatly improve the school completion rates of girls in vulnerable communities.
In Cambodia, Trem, 14, said menstruation still affects her studies. She explained: “When I have my period, I have to go home to change my sanitary pad as we don’t have the facilities I need at school.
“Luckily, my home is not far from school but others aren’t so fortunate. Some children’s houses are very far, so they don’t bother coming back to school.”