Removing the taboos surrounding menstruation and ensuring hygiene issues don’t stop girls attending school are the aim of Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Held on May 28 each year the day is dedicated to the vision of a world where every woman and girl can manage their monthly menstrual period with safety, privacy, and dignity.

It is thought one in three women around the world can’t access adequate toilets during menstruation and many girls miss school because of inadequate toilets and lack of access to sanitary products. In New Zealand the affordability of sanitary pads and tampons can also be an issue for schoolgirls and students leading to a campaign being launched in 2016, in league with the Salvation Army, offering people the chance to purchase a ‘women’s hygiene bundle’ for $16 from an online foodbank site.

Last week’s choice of a cover image showing a distorted cartoon character bleeding from the genitals – for an issue of the University of Otago student magazine Critic focusing on menstruation – led to the university seizing hundreds of copies of the magazine saying the cover was objectionable to many. Critic editor, Joel MacManus, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the aim of the ‘menstruation issue’ was to break taboos and encourage open discussion about menstruation argued that confiscation of the copies showed that menstruation was “clearly still a taboo in New Zealand”.

WaterAid Australia chief executive Rosie Wheen says until the stigma and shame around periods is removed then women and girls worldwide will not be able to get the facilities and support they need to deal with a normal part of life with dignity and confidence.

“Girls have a right to education, which is lost if they feel unable to attend lessons because of a lack of sanitary products or clean, private toilets at school,” said Wheen. “Governments need to ensure that every school has clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.”

UK survey shows menstruation myths continue

WaterAid asked more than 1,000 women aged 16 and over from across the United Kingdom about their menstruation knowledge, to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day.

According to the survey, certain myths still remain, with nearly 1 in 10 women (8.9%) believing you should not play sports while menstruating, and about 17% of women think they can’t get pregnant during their period.  The widely believed, yet scientifically dismissed, myth that women who spend a lot of time together synchronise periods was also believed by more than half of respondents.

About 31% of women said they felt inconvenienced every month by their period, 22 per cent ‘dreaded’ their period and just over a quarter (26%) worried they might leak at school or work. Nearly half reported avoiding swimming during their periods (49%), and 39 per cent avoided wearing certain clothes.

About a third of women said they would not feel comfortable talking about their menstrual cycle at all with anyone. Also nearly a quarter of women in a relationship felt uncomfortable talking to their partner about period pain (22%), PMT (23%) or their period flow (25%).

Many women reported receive derogatory comments related to their periods, with the most common remark being told they must have PMT (pre-menstrual tension) when considered to be moody (35%) topping the list.

About half of the women said that to address the stigma attached to periods, information and education about periods needs to be improved, also for men and boys – and open discussion about the issue should be encouraged.

Menstrual Hygiene day is held on May 28 because May is the fifth month of the year, and women’s menstruation period lasts an average of five days. The 28th was chosen because the average menstrual cycle is 28 days.

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