“Women and girls are forced to be absent for approximately 45 out of 180 school days each year. That amounts to 25% of their school days lost, resulting in grave educational setbacks, especially where there is limited access to hygienic products in schools,” said Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, in her keynote address.
She lamented that 500 million women around the world face “period poverty” – that is, lack of access to menstrual and sanitary supplies, menstrual hygiene education, and waste management.
Lucy Wanjiku Njenga, founder and executive director of Positive Young Women Voices, offered a personal perspective of how these challenges bear out, sharing her experience of growing up as a child managing her menstruation. She challenged the churches to break their silence around periods and facilitate discussion around menstrual and sex education, so that young girls do not fall victim to unhealthy practices or unwanted pregnancy.
Churches can do their part, said Lisa Sivertsen, director of Communication and Politics in Norwegian Church Aid, and “help women and girls experience their period in a dignified manner by facilitating menstrual hygiene products and education.”
Anita Kukreti, project officer, for the Churches’ Auxiliary for Social Action, gave concrete examples of how to help, including a “dignity kit” for women and girls affected by emergencies. She also gave examples of cost effective, reusable, and safe menstrual hygiene products.
Currently, millions of women and girls around the world are stigmatised, excluded and discriminated against simply because they menstruate. In many contexts, this natural bodily function forces women and girls to continue to be prevented from getting an education, earning an income, and fully and equally participating in everyday life with dignity.
Due to societal and religious taboo as well as lack of access to water, sanitation and sanitary hygiene, menstrual hygiene becomes more problematic for so many women.
Shahin Ashraf, head of Global Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide and co-lead of the International Partnership of Religion and Sustainable Development’s Gender workstream mentioned that Islam does not shame menstruation—but at the root of the stigma and taboo is patriarchy.