Plus crazy menstruation myths and how periods are keeping girls out of school.
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Assembly

17 October 2019 | Volume 2, Issue 9
  A note from our guest editor:
My name is Amika George. Two years ago, when I was 17 years old, I learned that many girls in the U.K. miss school every month because they can’t afford the cost of menstrual products. It made me angry that a natural bodily function prevents girls — my age or younger — from going to school and achieving their dreams. These girls are too poor to manage their periods and it seemed that the government cared too little to help them.

In between my classes and homework, I started a campaign from my bedroom called Free Periods to raise awareness about period poverty. I began lobbying the government to provide free menstrual products in all schools and colleges to ensure that no girl has to sacrifice her education because of her period.

After a peaceful protest in London, countless meetings with ministers and an impending legal challenge against Parliament, the U.K. government pledged in March 2019 to meet our campaign demands. Starting in early 2020, every student in England will have access to free period products in schools. Now, no girl in the U.K. will have to compromise on her education because she can’t afford to manage her period.

We're proud of our success — but this is just the beginning of our campaign. Period poverty affects girls in every community and every country. Access to menstrual products is a right for all and not a privilege for the few. I want to live in a world where periods are no longer met with silence, stigma and taboo. And instead girls refuse to be ashamed and embarrassed of their bodies.

I’m thrilled to be guest editing this issue of Assembly that focuses on menstruation and how it affects girls’ ability to go to school. Today, I ask Malala about girls’ education and periods, and why we need to keep fighting for the rights of girls everywhere. We debunk common myths about menstruation around the world. Girls from Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Malaysia and more tell us about their first periods to help destigmatise menstruation. We share a statistic about how often girls in South Asia miss school because of their periods. And we highlight the work of young female activists who are championing menstrual management in their home countries.

I hope you find this issue of Assembly as inspiring and uplifting as I do!
Amika George
 
 
Q&A
 
 
 
Amika George and Malala Yousafzai discuss periods and crazy menstruation myths
Amika and Malala
  By Amika George
At age 17, Amika George discovered that many girls in the U.K. miss school while on their periods because they can’t afford the cost of menstrual products. Determined to ensure that menstruation doesn’t stop girls from reaching their full potential, she began the Free Periods movement to raise awareness about period poverty. Amika spoke with Malala about her fight to see every girl in school and how menstruation affects girls’ education.

Amika George (AG): We know that when a girl has access to education, she improves not only her life prospects, but can really impact her community in the most remarkable way. Despite this, there appears to be a reluctance on the part of governments across the world to really invest in the education of girls. Why are we not seeing enough progress and why are there still so many barriers to access quality education?
Malala Yousafzai (MY):
Leaders often focus their efforts on solving issues like poverty or war — pressing problems that people can see. But often leaders don’t realise that sending girls to school can help solve these “bigger” issues. Educating all girls will help create jobs and boost the global economy by $30 trillion. It will help slow the effects of climate change. It will reduce poverty and cut the risk of war in half in developing countries.

With more activists speaking out for girls’ right to learn than ever before, we are making progress. But it takes time to shift cultural norms and get governments big and small to reorganise their financial priorities.

AG: I have seen first-hand how much can be achieved when girls stand together for each other. We can lift each other up, and we can make things better for each other. As a community of girls who want to help each other, how can we support girls who do not have the educational opportunities they deserve?
MY:
Show your support for organisations that are helping to get more girls into classrooms by fundraising for them or participating in their digital awareness campaigns. If you’re of voting age, get to know your country’s candidates and support the one who will improve education and gender equity. You can also share the stories of girls who are doing impressive work. When more people can see what educated girls can do, it helps normalise girls’ achievements and reminds people why education is so valuable.

Read more.
 
 
 
Myths about menstruation that prevent girls from going to school
Menstruation myth
  By Tess Thomas
यह लेख हिंदी में भी उपलब्ध है।

In ancient Rome, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that menstruating women have the power to dry out gardens, blunt steel and kill swarms of bees with just one look.

The Mae Enga of New Guinea believed menstrual blood could sicken men if they came in contact with it.

And the Yupiit peoples thought that hunting clothing and equipment could be affected by a menstruating woman’s odour.

While these beliefs (hopefully) seem preposterous now, inaccurate information about menstruation persists to the present day. Not only can these misconceptions put girls in medical danger, but they often prevent them from going to school.

We debunk five current myths about menstruation and highlight how activists and organisations are challenging these beliefs.

Myth: Menstruation is dirty.
Menstrual fluid is made up of blood and tissue, and it is not dirty or harmful. Yet, this belief that periods are unclean is common around the world.

Sana Lokhandwala says that menstruating girls and women in Pakistan are commonly labelled as dirty and are “ostracized in dark places” and “shunned from any human interaction” while on their periods. Forced isolation causes girls to miss class while menstruating.

With her sister Sumaira, Sana founded the organisation HER Pakistan to educate Pakistani girls and women about menstruation. They hold workshops at schools for girls and boys to teach accurate information about this natural bodily function and explain why periods are not unclean. HER Pakistan also helps girls access hygienic and affordable sanitary products in underprivileged communities where girls often use “[r]ags, paper, leaves and even sand” to manage their periods.

“Apart from causing serious diseases, lack of access to hygienic products restricts the mobility of women and girls,” she shares. “Hence, they miss out on school and work.” Sana hopes that by educating communities about menstruation and increasing access to period products through HER Pakistan, she can help girls complete their education.

Myth: Once a girl gets her period, she is ready to get married.
Menstruating for the first time is an important step of puberty, which is when the body starts to change to become more adult. However, menstruation is not an indicator that a girl is ready for marriage. On average, girls first menstruate around 12 years old. Marriage at that age can have devastating consequences for a girl’s health and education.

“When a girl gets her first and second period, some parents believe that such a girl is old enough to be married,” says 21-year-old Syson Ahabwe of her Ugandan community. “Indeed, it is not uncommon for girls to be withdrawn from school so that they can be married off.”

As a menstrual hygiene ambassador for the nonprofit Let Them Help Themselves (LTHT), Syson teaches girls in Uganda about their periods and challenges practices like forcing menstruating girls out of school to be married. With LTHT, Syson also addresses other beliefs that limit girls, such as girls on their periods should not be allowed to prepare food, milk cows or share a bed with siblings.

Read more.
 
 
Did you know? 
Menstruation

 
 
Around the world 
 
  Tell us about your first period.

Amanda “My first menstruation was a horror because my family had laughed and made fun of my twin sister when she first menstruated. It was in a healthy way, but I didn't want them to do it to me, so I hid mine from my family for almost six months until my mother found out. After that we talked and she naturalized the situation for me. However, only after much study of the female body and feminism did I accept menstruation as part of me as a woman.”
— Amanda, 21, Brazil
“When I had my first period it was really scary and very painful. When I told my mom and sister, they told me it was a gift. Since I was good in biology, I wasn't confused about menstruation and how to use pads. When I'm menstruating, I can't attend my classes and I don't listen to the teacher carefully because I think only of the pain. Sometimes I don't go to school. Even though it has its own negative impact on my education, I know my period is a huge milestone of my life.”
— Mekdes, 17, Ethiopia
Mekdes
 
Zainab “I was 12 when I got my first period. I still remember it perfectly. It was on a Saturday, there was no school and my mum was out for work. I went to the bathroom and alas! I got my first period. It was a little scary and uncomfortable. My mum rushed home and taught me how to use a pad.”
— Zainab, 17, India
“After returning home from a track meet when I was 13, I found blood in my underwear and was absolutely horrified. I had previously been told by older girls on my track team that I would slow down once I got my period. In the following months, I proved them wrong by training hard and winning a national championship. Because of this experience, I think it’s really important to teach girls from a young age that periods are not a negative thing, but instead a unique part of what makes women and girls so powerful.”
— Rachel, 17, U.S.
Rachel
Saranya “My first period took place when I was 12 and a half. As a soon-to-be teenager, I had many expectations of how my menstruation would transform me into a whole new 'woman.' I imagined myself becoming confident in my own skin, possibly growing a few inches taller and feeling as if I were a grown-up. Unfortunately, I had set the standards for reaching puberty at a very high level. Instead, the occasional cramps have been very painful. My first period occurred when I was in school. We had just finished our sports lesson for the day and as I was changing in the locker room, I had noticed unfamiliar stains on my pants. I immediately scrambled to the nurse, begged for a pad and began my journey of evolving into a stronger girl and woman.”
— Saranya, 16, Malaysia
  Read more.  
 
Activist spotlight
 
 
 
Meet five young women who champion menstrual management in Ethiopia, Nepal, Tanzania, Turkey and the US
Menstrual management
  Every day, poor quality sanitation facilities, lack of access to menstrual products, discrimination and myths force girls to skip school while on their periods.

When girls repeatedly miss class, they are more likely to fall behind or stop going to school. To ensure that menstruation doesn’t stop girls from learning, these five activists are working to make periods easier, safer and more affordable.
Sara Eklund
Sara Eklund, Ethiopia
Founder of Noble Cup

In Ethiopia, 25% of girls do not use any menstrual health products during their periods, often because disposable pads are too costly. Many schools don’t have private bathrooms, running water or trash facilities, which means girls must return home to manage their periods. Because of these conditions, 17% of girls in Ethiopia have reported missing class while menstruating.

Sara Eklund realised that menstrual cups — flexible, bell-shaped silicone devices that can be inserted into the vagina to catch period fluid — could help girls overcome these obstacles. Menstrual cups are less expensive than pads or tampons because they can be reused for five years and worn for up to 12 hours. They don’t create waste, which is important when adequate garbage disposal facilities are sparse. And they require less water to clean than cloth rags, a critical concern in countries that face water shortages, like Ethiopia.

Sara founded Noble Cup, an organisation that produces and distributes menstrual cups (the first in Ethiopia!) to girls and women across the country. “[Menstruation] is the most natural, normal thing in the world and the unifying thing about it is that every girl is doing it,” she shares. Through Noble Cup, Sara works to make sure that every girl has an affordable and sustainable way to manage her menstrual health.
Nadya Okamoto
Nadya Okamoto, U.S.
Co-founder and executive director of PERIOD

In the U.S., an estimated one in five girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products. At age 16, Nadya Okamoto co-founded the youth-run nonprofit PERIOD to end this period poverty and stigma in the U.S.

Nadya focuses PERIOD’s efforts on distributing period products to those in need and advocating for policies to improve menstrual equality. On October 19, 2019, PERIOD is holding rallies across the U.S. to raise awareness about the many menstruators who can’t manage their periods because of poverty or homelessness. Supporters will protest the sales tax on period products in 35 U.S. states that labels period products non-essential items.
 

 
 
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