Guest post by Anushay Hossain
I was so happy when my colleague pointed out this recent piece by the fabulous NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof. He never seems to miss a beat when is comes to drawing attention to women’s reproductive health and rights around the world, and the array of barriers women face in accessing adequate care for their health. A fervent follower and reporter of maternal health issues, Kritof usually highlights factors which contribute to the crippling maternal mortality ratios in developing nations such as Africa. Recently though he has picked up on how periods and lack of access to sanitary products is keeping girls out of school. Read his piece on the issue here.
I am just so thrilled he has picked up on this because it is not just serving as a barrier between girls and education in Africa. In South Asia in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh access to sanitary products is a massive issue that links all different kinds of issues with women’s health, like clean water for example. In the villages of Bangladesh and across the continent, women often use rags (usually the borders of their old saris) as sanitary napkins. Because they often do not have enough rags, women share them amongst each other. Because there is no clean water, they are washed in polluted water leading to a host of health issues such as urinary tract infections which can lead to kidney infections if left untreated.
I have heard of huge westerns sanitary product companies like Tampax and Always using this problem as a way to market their product. But there is a huge environmental factor that these companies are not considering. In rural areas, being able to recycle and reuse materials is a major component of village culture. Livelihoods are very intimately tied to the environment. How are women and girls meant to dispose properly of products which are 3-5 part plastic? I know that people back home in Bangladesh immediately reject products they deem wasteful. In fact, shampoo companies often market their products in smaller packages for their rural clientele.
There is a great Indian organization called Goonj that collects rags to deliver to women in villages. I think it’s a great initiative because it encourages reusing rags and does not harm the environment. This kind of program is much more compatible with rural life than throwing wasteful and western products with no regards to rural people’s lifestyles.
Hopefully with Kristof highlighting this issue in his column, the attention will encourage people to get more involved. It is 2009 and in no part of the world should a woman or girl’s menstrual cycle come between her and her education- or anything else she may desire.
Check out the organization when you have time and also have a look at FMF’s Women and Climate Change Campaign.
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