Anna Dahlqvist On Challenges Faced By Menstruating Girls In Places Where Poverty And Shame Intersect
- IWB Post
- May 15, 2018
While the conversation around menstruation has been accelerated in the recent years, there remains so much of the stigma that needs to be addressed. The stigma in different places takes a different shape and that is why it is integral to understand it all from all the angles so as to eradicate it permanently.
Swedish journalist Anna Dahlqvist in her new book, It’s Only Blood explores menstruation on the global level with a special focus on the places where poverty and shame intersect. Recently in an interaction with Refinery 29, she shared the details on the book and how it all started.
She said, “I read about how girls in South Africa couldn’t get an education because they couldn’t handle their periods at school. I felt that, in this patriarchy, we’re seen as miracle makers when we get pregnant or give birth, but the necessary part of that – periods – is something we’re told we should be ashamed of or hide. I was driven by anger at this hypocrisy!”
In the first part of the book, Anna goes to Kenya and Uganda. She talks to school going girls about the challenges faced by them. She says, “So first we can look at it as a lack of material resources. You need products and for a lot of these girls, there’s no way to afford disposable pads.”
She also shares how the boys make fun of menstruating girls and despite this, the blame falls on the girls for not keeping clean. “The blame falls on the girl, not the person making fun or teasing her. We need information and knowledge about what menstruation is and how to handle it. There’s a gap there,” says Anna.
Talking about the menstrual rules across the world, Anna shares, “The main one everywhere is no stains, no seeing the pad or cloths or cup, and no talking about it publicly, specifically to boys or men. Some more specific rules relate to religion, like bans on entering religious buildings. That’s been a big problem in India, where you can be banned from temples if you’re menstruating, although some women enter anyway. Others related to cooking and food, like in Senegal and Zambia, where you’re not supposed to cook or touch certain foods.”
She adds, “And then there’s this idea of separation. We see this in India and Nepal, where there are menstrual huts that you are sent to sleep in during your period. People suffocate to death in them. Sexual violence can occur if girls are alone in them. They are small and they don’t have electricity, they can be too hot or cold.”
Talking about how many of these rules cannot be directly addressed as they are intertwined with culture, Anna shares, “The bottom line is human rights: the right to choose to be free from discrimination if that’s how you see it, and the right to make your own choices.”
Talking about the health complications that can come with poor hygiene options available to women on their periods, Anna shares, ” The little research there is has shown that if you use a cloth it can lead to infections, that can lead to complications around pregnancy, higher risk of miscarriage, or life-threatening illnesses like HIV and cervical cancer.”
Like we remarked at the beginning of the article, the conversation around menstruation has indeed improved, but there is a lot more to be done. Speaking on the same topic, Anna says: “Governments talk a lot about giving out pads in schools. We have seen this from high schools in Brooklyn to schools in Kenya and India. The problem is, it’s not really getting to the basis of the problem. It’s easy to do and it’s visible to voters. But these pads last a while and then the supply is gone. We need more sustainable programmes.”
There are times when people feel angry and agitated about these issues. Taking about such situations, Anna says: “Contact your local politicians and get engaged with NGOs working in this area. But ask yourself: What kind of project is it? Do they have the bigger perspective in mind? Another thing we can all do that I think will have a greater impact than we could imagine is to start talking about menstruation in your private life, take away that shame and embarrassment.”
Anna passionately believes, “We need to take periods from a private matter to a public matter so we can deal with these issues on a structural level as a society.” She adds, “I’m really optimistic from what I see happening at the moment – it’s like a menstrual awakening, the start of real, practical change.”
H/T: Refinery 29