Menstrual health programs need a new focus: Critic
Providing girls with menstrual supplies and a private place to use them has emerged as a popular way for international groups to tackle global poverty, Chris Bobel says, but she argues that these efforts should be viewed through a critical lens — and largely that’s not happening.
in her new book, The Managed Body: Developing Girls and Menstrual Health in the Global South, she contends that programs to provide pads and cups to girls in developing countries — also known collectively as the Global South — miss the mark, well-intentioned though they may be. They overlook higher priorities, such as clean water and comprehensive education efforts, she says, and actually work against eradicating taboos surrounding menstruation.
Bobel, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the university of Massachusetts Boston, has been researching and writing about menstruation and society’s attitudes toward it for more than 15 years. She has strong feelings about how menstruation has been stigmatized, which, she argues, affects everything from girls’ esteem and sense of self to long-term potential.
She became interested in menstrual health in developing countries after reading a 2009 blog post questioning whether providing girls with pads would keep them in school. She suspected they wouldn’t, and a study cited in the piece basically said as much. as Bobel looked into the question, she noticed that non-governmental organizations, governments and well-meaning individuals all seemed to seize on pads as the answer.
researchers, advocates, activists, entrepreneurs and even government officials, Bobel says, have issued calls to “make menstruation matter.” The world Bank and unicef have promoted menstrual health education, including hygiene, to keep girls in school because girls who remain in school tend to have fewer children and are less likely to marry early and live in poverty.
Some organizations say menstruation is one of the main reasons that girls drop out: stories abound about girls who miss school for days at a time each month or must leave altogether once they begin menstruating.
a report published by the united nations educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (unesco) in 2014 says, “Menstruation is a particularly salient issue because it has a more pronounced effect on the quality and enjoyment of education than do other aspects of puberty.”
The report cited issues related to latrines, safe water, good sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as access to menstrual products. without these, the report warned, school would be “unhealthy, gender discriminatory and inadequate.” The un Commission on the Status of women recommends creating health and educational opportunities that promote menstruation as normal and natural.
Bobel is pleased with these ideas. But she says that while organizations do promote menstrual health education, those efforts seem to be secondary to promoting menstrual products.
“in February 2018, Twitter lit up with selfies of stars of the Bollywood screen posing with an object typically kept hidden,” she writes. They were promoting the work of an indian entrepreneur named arunachalam Muruganantham, known as “Padman,” who invented a way to make sanitary napkins cheaply.