The talk.Period event is happening in Bristol this Global Menstrual Hygiene day- 28th May 2015. RSVP
As an engineer, I’ve been taught to problem solve from day one. It comes naturally to me and if it doesn’t come naturally then I work away, breaking the problem down into chunks until I can find a solution.
Many people don’t believe me when I say I use my engineering skills every single day in my job. They say “what you do- it’s health work” or “it’s education” or “it’s social work”, “it’s not engineering, it’s not technical”. But what I do every single day is problem solve. That’s the job description of an engineer: to problem solve. Every day I use my maths, my design knowledge, my negotiation skills, my project management, my communication skills, my knowledge of sustainability and the uncanny engineering skill of ‘guestimating’.
Lack of menstrual hygiene is a problem. If you can’t go to school because of fear you will stain your school uniform- that’s a problem. If you can’t go to work because you’re not allowed to leave the house on your period– that’s a problem. If you don’t have a private space to change your sanitary towel or wash your bloody hands- that’s a problem. And if you think you’re cursed because you don’t know why you’re bleeding out of a body part you can’t even name- that’s a problem. Since, finishing my degree last summer I’ve realised these are problems that I really want to help solve.
I have been lucky enough to help work on solutions to these problems in both Bolivia and Uganda. What it all boils down to is a lack of education, a lack of proper facilities and a lack of access to appropriate sanitary materials. Many women and girls are forced to use sand, ash, leaves, bark or filthy rags that you “wouldn’t clean the floor with” because they have no other choice.
All around the world, menstruation is a huge taboo. If you aren’t even allowed to talk about it, how are you meant to manage it? This ‘hush-hush’ attitude has led to a huge number of myths and beliefs. In Bolivia they believe you can’t eat onions whilst menstruating as it might cause cancer, in Uganda it’s said if a menstruating women crosses a garden all of the plants will wither and die. Where do these beliefs come from? Noone seems to really know but what we do know is that women and girls are restricted and controlled by them, at a time when they naturally feel more self-conscious and withdrawn. Not exactly confident boosting.
I often wonder, if no one talks about it, how do these taboos become rife?
From my experience in these two very different cultures I’ve heard completely opposing beliefs. In Bolivia it’s often believed women and girls who are menstruating should not touch water and if they do they will get blemishes on their faces, this leads to a lack of washing and personal hygiene during their period which can cause teasing and even health problems. However in Uganda, its common to believe that you should wash 4 or more times a day whilst menstruating and there is even a practice of douching the vagina (spraying water inside it) to ensure you are clean. I would love to introduce a Bolivian who doesn’t wash on her period to a Ugandan who over washes and let them talk it out.
Working in a developing country is never easy. You have communication barriers (even if they speak English), logistical nightmares, power cuts, strikes, extreme weather and a constant battle to be heard as a person rather than goggled at like the bemusing alien you are. Working on such a sensitive topic, I was worried people wouldn’t want to talk to me. That I wouldn’t even be able to find out what some of the problems are, never mind help them solve them but actually I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how eager people are to learn and to share around this taboo subject.
I started no more taboo. to solve a big problem and although I’m nowhere near a solution at least I’ve started to understand some of the chunks that this problem is broken down into. I hope when I get back to the UK in a few months’ time I can also start to understand the chunk of the menstrual hygiene problem there including homelessness and poverty.
The talk.Period event is a great chance to find out more about menstrual hygiene problems and to help engineer solutions.
Written by Chloe Tingle of No More Taboo