Time to talk periods and international development

Girls shouldn’t ever be held back because of menstruation.Thank goodness that organisations such as Irise are on hand to tackle this issue


It is a truth universally acknowledged that most men are frightened of periods. In the past, I have discussed bodily functions such as urination, vomiting and earwax quite cheerfully with various male friends. However, the moment Aunt Flo is mentioned I have noticed a very special type of of shudder, as if the sunshine has suddenly been forever covered by a dark, dark cloud. This of course sounds like the beginning of a bad comedy sketch but I promise that I have a serious point.

Half the world are having periods whether menstrual phobes like it or not. And it’s time to start talking about it. A girls education, her chance to create a livelihood for herself and to pursue independence can all rely on her chance to practice menstrual hygiene. We take this for granted in the UK. Walking through Boots today I counted around twenty different varieties of sanitary products. The styles, varieties and brands allow a woman to make an informed decision, tailored to her own personal needs and lifestyle. There are some that profess comfort, others durability. Some promise the freshening of any nasty odours. Others allure you with the suggestion of a silken touch, as it they are in fact nothing more than luxurious dresses for your lady parts.

We ladies in the developed world have managed to distance ourselves from the bloody reality of our uteruses. The womb is a turbulent, powerful thing, capable of crushing a girls future, capable of doubling her over in pain. We have put it on a leash with our super absorbent swimming pool ready tampons, our painkillers and our feminine wipes. It is all too easy to forget the prison that the menstruating body can be. That is why Irise is such a super duper charity, proudly championing a cause that we Brits prefer to whisper about in the privacy of the ladies bathroom.

Some women in the world cannot use a good standard of sanitary products either due to lack of access or the inability to afford “luxury” items. According to a report by The Development Policy Centre, women is developing countries often have to make do with using unhygienic and undignified methods. These include using “straw, leaves, newspaper, mud or ash”. Ladies, please imagine for a moment being so desperate that you have to pack mud into your own knickers to soak up your own blood. This isn’t just shocking, this is completely unacceptable and can and does have a long term negative impact on a girls reproductive health. Moreover, lack of sanitary products will lead to continuation of the poverty cycle. In Uganda, 50% of girls miss school because of their period. This is detrimental to their education and will damage their future chances of becoming financially independent and empowered women.

Irise have set up social enterprises within local communities that produce Mwezi pads, durable and hygienic reusable sanitary towels. These Mwezi pads are then readily accessible and affordable for local women. One social enterprise can produce enough Mwezi pads for around 9,000 girls a year. Furthermore, these social enterprises provide quality jobs and incomes for local women. Each social enterprise employs fifteen local women. Irises take on development is genuinely inspiring. Rather than relying on charitable giving, Irise are helping to break the poverty cycle by helping sustainable local business which will benefit the local community economically.

Lack of education and understanding is a colossal problem when tackling this issue. In many impoverished rural communities, girls are forbidden to use the water supply during their period. In some cases they are not even allowed to cook or bathe during this time, severely limiting their independence. This is due to the fact that in such communities, periods are stigmatised as being shameful and are therefore not spoken about. Astonishingly, there is still a vast number of girls who are oblivious about the existence of the menstrual cycle until they experience their own first period. Understandably, these girls will be confused and frightened, believing themselves to be seriously sick. Irise works within these communities to educate and inform, and tackle taboos. Irise trains Menstrual Health Trainers who in turn train Educators who teach around 6,000 girls every year about periods, reproductive health and menstrual hygiene.

With small steps, great changes can be made. However, Irise have made some pretty huge ones through their excellent work. Terrified male leaders of the world take note: periods need to be shouted about and sanitary towels change lives. Keep up the great work Irise!


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