By: Kananelo Khoetsa
Period poverty is defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, basic sanitary services such as clean toilets, water, and waste management.
In South Africa alone it is believed that up to 7 million girls lack sanitary products and are at times forced to miss school, with some using rags and newspapers to contain menstrual blood. Beyond the discomfort I believe they experience, this practice also has health risks, amongst which we have urinary tract infections, yeast infections, risk to Hepatitis B infection and an increased risk to cervical cancer.
Besides health risks there is also painful periods and bad odour.
I was in a wholesale store sometime back where I was approached by a woman who asked that I please show her the products we use when menstruating. This was said in the hushed tone we women often use when talking about menstruation in public. Now, this was a woman who did not know what pads were called, the various sanitary products available, and how they are not only picked but also used. On our way to the aisle, I asked her what she used to use, she said rags.
It is very easy to look to that woman and think her uninformed and ignorant, yet I was 26 years old when I learned that a pad is to be changed every 6 hours, if not, one would be prone to infections. I think this was an unfortunate consequence of misinformation due to period poverty, as the premise relies on the fact that there are not enough sanitary towels to go around, therefore one is supposed to get their monies worth with each pad worn.
I, unfortunately experienced numerous infections as a consequence and I spent the greater majority of my menstrual years changing pads as I believed the pads to be the problem.
Needless to say, I dreaded my periods, I resented them, I hated the hormones, the bleeding, the discomfort, the self-consciousness- especially when in public places where I would continuously wonder if I smelled or had blotted myself. What of the symptoms?!
My first year in Port Elizabeth I had a roommate that experiences the worst period cramps I have ever witnessed. She’d faint, was unable to talk, move, walk, or do anything. The first time I witnessed this I did not believe it was period pains. I recall her coming into our room carried, barely looking conscious and breathing as though she was experiencing a shortness of breath, her eyes were closed with tears rolling down her cheeks. Now this of course did not make sense and I refused to accept it. Am I not a woman? Don’t I bleed? Don’t I experience period pains? Why then was she as she was?
It was then that I learned and understood the diversity of our periods. I dared not imagine her early school years, or life once employed. Will her colleagues understand? Her boss?
Menstruation remains a taboo in some parts, and as a result individuals such as myself are susceptible to ignorance and misinformation.
I am only learning my body at the age of 29, understanding my body, my monthly cycle, of course this is not only limited to menstruation. I only downloaded a period app this year, an app I thought I did not need, as I menstruate and believed that made me an expert in the field.
I am happy to say that I no longer dread my periods.
The beautiful wonder that is my body is finally being appreciated, understood and loved.