One of the distinct highlights of preparing to speak at TEDxSLC was meeting and collaborating with Dr. Sayantani DasGupta. She is the kind of woman I aspire to be. After hearing each other’s talks in a practice session, we had several energized conversations about menstruation. It is so encouraging to meet people who think talking about menstruation is as important as I think it is. Even in 2013, especially in 2013, we seem to need constant (maybe monthly?) reminders that menstruation matters.
When I went to Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), I was struck by how openly the girls and (male and female) staff talked to me about menstruation in the context of education. There, access to sanitary materials was a priority, and one the school deals with well. Girls without pads don’t show up to school. Before KGSA got the girls access to pads, some would have sex with men for money so they could buy pads. Then pregnancy would affect attendance as well as continue to cycle of extreme poverty.
In my classroom in Minnesota, I loved talking about menstruation (encouraging the females to consider becoming Divas, for example) with male and female students to break the silence. Because access to sanitary materials was not an issue for students at the school, menstruation wasn’t talked about as much there as in Kibera, but we needed to. Ignorance and disembodiment in our society abound.
Sayantani is continuing the conversation about the importance of menstruation here, in her blog post on AdiosBarbie.com:
In most countries, there is a culture of taboo and secrecy around menstrual health and hygiene. Just think of all those ridiculous commercials for sanitary products that allow you to engage in activities ‘without anyone knowing’ you are menstruating – even if you are wearing white spandex or leaping in the air or whatever. Last year, a British company named Bodyform made this brilliant commercial to try and debunk some of the secrecy around ‘period talk’ but still, we persist in treating menstruation like a hush-hush taboo:
This doesn’t seem like such a big problem until we realize that menstrual supplies – and their lack – is a critical issue of dignity, mobility, and human rights for girls and women around the world.
Take the importance of menstrual supplies to girls’ education.
During a meeting for an upcoming TEDx event at Sarah Lawrence College, I was listening to a graduate student named Ellie Roscher describe a successful educational model in an impoverished slum outside Nairobi, Kenya. Run by a local man who wanted to make sure that girls from his community could get the same opportunities as boys, The Kibera Girls Soccer Academy understands the local pressures that keep girls from higher education, including the fact that a free education is not actually free. Families who chose to send their girls to school in deeply impoverished communities around the world are losing their labor – either in the form of outside income or domestic labor taking care of family members and cooking meals. At the very least, families have to pay for the food and supplies that their school-going children require.