Men­strual health pro­grams need a new fo­cus: Critic

Edmonton Sun - - LIFE - LIA Kva­tum The Wash­ing­ton Post

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.

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