Challenging Menstrual Language….

RachadminMenstrual Health

This Menstrual Day happening later this month really ruffled my feathers!

The wording they have chosen really got me MAD!! Menstrual Hygiene??? Is our moon blood dirty, unhygienic?? I am so sick of advertising telling us how we need to clean up our blood!

So I posted about it on my Facebook…and the conversation took off! The woman behind Red Wisdom Hearth , Karin, got mad too and she wrote a fantastic blog about it! Occupy Menstruation posted about it too, many, many women agreed.

I wrote to the organisers of the day…heres the reply  –

Dear Rachael, 
Thank you so much for your email, your thoughts and contributions. 
Last year I attended the Making Menstruation Matter conference where very similar motions around the negative connotation of “hygiene” were expressed. I started to collect ideas on alternative names, but in the end we, as an entire organization, decided to stick to Menstrual Hygiene Day. 
Let me explain why: 
  • Menstrual Hygiene Day is not only about the biological process of growing up into a women, but really to address the challenges that exist in many developing countries with a lack of infrastructure in schools, at institutions or even at home (1 billion people worldwide do not own a toilet!), the lack of availability or affordability of sanitary products, and that teachers and health workers lack information or simply do not want to talk about it, and ultimately that projects, funding and policies simply do not exist. Using the terminology “menstruation” or “period” would fall gravely short of highlighting all these different barriers that needs to be addressed.
  • “Menstrual Hygiene” as a terminology is an expression in the area of development work. We already felt a bit uncomfortable dropping the “management” after “menstrual hygiene”, but the shorter terminology is common and otherwise it would be very long. Menstrual Health was considered, but waived because there is a wide lack of data on health in developing countries, and hygiene also includes the need for sanitary products.
  • Around menstruation there are very different “movements”. We deeply acknowledge and personally support the feminist perspectives, such as Gloria Steinem’s and websites like Occupy Menstruation that encourage women and girls to feel empowered and take pride in womanhood. However, based on intensive discussions with our partners from developing countries and own experience in Asia and Africa, girls and women are not interested in ‘loving their periods’ or ‘celebrating menstruation’. Rather, they want to feel like periods of “normal” and that they can go about life normally when it comes, especially women and girls who, for all their lives have lived without hygienic materials and instead with taboos, stigmas, silence and harsh situations that North American or European women could never even imagine.
For example in Bangladesh, girls have a wedding like celebration, BUT only after they have been confined in a house for 7 days. The celebration also signals that they are ready to marry. Other taboos can be foundhere
  • Furthermore, as MH Day is an advocacy initiative, the key target audiences for the day are:
  1. the media to highlight the challenges of women and girls in Africa/Asia, and contribute to  breaking the silence and debunking myths.
  2. policy makers and donors in the areas of education, water, sanitation and hygiene, gender, and reproductive health, to consider and integrate the issue into policies, funding and projects for developing countries.
  3. partners working in the area of menstrual hygiene who wish to strengthen their networks and share knowledge among them.
  4. Individuals who want to get engage in starting the conversation via social media and beyond.
To reach the women and girls that we’re concerned about, our amazing partners are engaged in direct on-the-ground work in education, building school facilities, making pads, cups , etc. available. 
But, this is not what MH Day will do. The goal is to create partnerships to and a global movement of supporters that are pushing the agenda forward. 
  • We are aware that the name excludes a broad range of organizations, associations, activists, and maybe does not directly speak to women and girls in developed countries. However, we hope that through the day, there will be a recognition that menstruation hygiene management in developing countries is an overwhelmingly neglected issue (but not nothing that cannot be solved).
  • We cannot tell you how many people we’ve met had never once even thought about the challenged related to menstrual hygiene; they really had “ah ha” moments because they came to understand that in lieu of sanitary pads and cups women and girls are using materials like sand, ash, old socks and whatever they can get their hands on to mange their flow every month. And these things are unhygienic.
  • The Society Of Menstrual Cycle Research in their conference last year had just one session that addressed MHM, but now, since they’ve come on board, they’ve widened their perspective because they simply cannot ignore the challenges the majority of women and girls worldwide face.
I hope these answers were satisfactory. Please see our Menstrual Hygiene Day factsheets to learn more. Check out our new infographic too! Let me know if you have any other questions.
I am also going to put you on the MH Day newsletter so you can continue to engage and learn more about our work.
All the best, 

What do you think…?

My thoughts are thats its not really clear what or who its aimed at straight away, you need to really dig around the site to find that its aimed at women in countries where they are sadly using ‘unhygienic’ materials; newspaper, rags, grass, bark and other ‘unhygienic’ alternatives- which can lead to infections and spread of diseases.  I’m currently working with a charity in Zimbabwe to help women overcome the cultural taboos around menstruation. BUT  the term “Menstrual Hygiene” doesn’t really = love your period does it?? Maybe thats not what they are trying to get to, but I really believe this language that makes us feel dirty about ourselves needs to be eradicated from the mass consciousness. Its time for a menstrual revolution! AND I still think women in the US and Europe could identify as being raised with taboos around menstruation and even resorting to use ‘unsanitary’ materials, its not just women in Africa. Even if women don’t want to celebrate or love their periods, I firmly believe we need to move away from language thats associated with the ‘dirty, and unclean’ connotations.

Join the Facebook discussion, email the organisers, email the Partners, let them know what you think! 

© 2014 Rachael Hertogs, All Rights Reserved