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Menstrual Hygiene Matters, Period.

In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on Tuesday, May 28th, let’s take a look at why the menstrual hygiene conversation is important for everyone, not just women, and why it requires a central role when looking at improving gender equality and education equality.

Just recently, a film bout this very subject, called Period. End of Sentence, won the 2019 Oscar for documentary short subject. This 26-minute film aims to end the stigma of menstruation and to break taboos surrounding menstruation.

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“I can't believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.” said Rayka Zehtabchi, the director of Period. End of Sentence. in her Oscar acceptance speech.

In the documentary, a group of local women in Katikheda, India, learn how to operate a machine that makes low-cost, biodegradable sanitary pads, which they sell to other women at affordable prices. Feminine hygiene was not only improved by this expanded access to basic products, but this innovation also empowered women by shedding the long-understood taboos in India about menstruation.

These taboos exist not only in Inda, but all over the world - from the U.K. to Kenya - and have devastating impact on women and their social standings.

As highlighted in the documentary, many men in the village of Katikheda believe that menstruation is some kind of an illness and most do not know of the existence of sanitary pads. Women are also visibly uncomfortable when talking about periods and menstruation. They giggle nervously and turn their faces away from the camera - they are ashamed to talk about menstruation. “It's something only God knows. It's the dirty blood that is released,” says one woman. Another woman admits that she waited a year after her first period for “things to change,” for her period to essentially disappear, but it didn't. So, she stopped going to school.

When a girl gets her period in the United States, she may miss a class.

When a girl gets her period in a developing country, she may never go to school again.

A period should end a sentence, not a girl's education.

– Period. End of Sentence

But, unfortunately, that's exactly what's happening all over the world. And, at Well Aware, we see this far too often in our partner communities.

Even with the battle that these women and girls continually face in order to claim basic human rights, Period. End of Sentence. is a story of hope and celebration. It's a stark (and enlightening) contrast to the stories we usually see about developing nations, especially the women living there. These women are not victims. Through their ability to produce, sell and buy what they need, these women are challenging the status quo and taking back a measure of control over their own lives.

It would be easy for them to dwell on this great injustice. Complaining is the easiest thing in the world, and no one could criticize them for doing so. But these women are made of more. This documentary captured their powerful spirit and both women and men should watch it.

“The strongest creature created by God in the world. Not the lion, not the elephant, not the tiger. The girl,” says one man at the end of the documentary.

#ItsTimeForAction Period matters to everyone.

Well Aware is also a believer that menstrual rights matter, period. We believe that now, more than ever, we must push for progress on equity, in all areas, globally. While Well Aware focuses on clean water primarily, we also have an integral, complementary focus on sanitation and hygiene. After all, proper sanitation and hygiene is simply not possible without reliable clean water. In fact, in our partner communities suffering from water scarcity challenges, we often find women and girls who are also struggling with feminine hygiene. Many don’t have access to the menstrual products they need, and even if they do, there may not be places to wash at school or in the home, creating anxiety and shame. This greatly impacts their ability to stay in school and their ability to amplify their positions within their social hierarchies. This is why it’s important to not only provide a source of clean water, but also ensure fair access to necessary products.

One great organization that is working to address precisely this issue in Kenya is ZanaAfrica. Since 2013, ZanaAfrica has supplied over 50,000 girls with health education, sanitary pads, underwear, and mentors. They’re doing incredible work and we’re inspired by the commitment of nonprofits like ZanaAfrica to combating the stigma of menstruation and empowering girls in Kenya and beyond.

We also recognize that we will never achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for ALL, without paying special attention to the needs of women and girls, including equal access to necessary menstrual products.

Now, we invite you to join us: share this article or film, stand up for people in vulnerable situations across the world, and remember that #It’sTimeForAction, period.