breaking the cycle of shame

by: Marcee Nelson

In Nepal, a woman huddles alone in an open shed night after night, isolated from family, exposed to the elements, without food or clean water.  In South Africa, a young girl misses so much school that she makes the fateful decision to drop out.  In a remote part of India, a woman whose touch is believed to spoil food and make men sick is forbidden to enter her place of worship.

What have these women done to be made to feel so unclean and unaccepted?  They are having their periods.

In many of the countries where our soHza artisans live, one of the most common gender rights issues is one that nobody likes to talk about — “my week of shame.”

What should be celebrated as a sign of female health and vitality is instead kept in the shadows.  What keeps the shame alive?  Deep-seated cultural beliefs, a lack of health information passed from mothers to daughters, and little access to clean water and supplies.

What if you had to miss weeks of work without pay each year because of your period?  Many women have no choice but to stay home to try to manage menstruation any way they can — “…with leaves and mud, pieces of discarded mattress, old rags, even sand or sawdust…”

Imagine trying to handle your period that way … or trying to hide and dry cloths in dark, damp spaces that breed bacteria.  The lack of access to clean water and use of non-hygienic products contribute to an endless cycle of infection and illness for women in developing countries — and perpetuates myths that menstruating women are “filthy” or “diseased.”

But here in the US we can easily get everything we need, right?  Not always…

More than one in seven women in the US live in poverty.  Feminine hygiene products are not covered by food stamps or the WIC program, so many women have to choose between buying food and managing menstruation.  They are forced to deal with mess and the humiliation of something considered “not essential.”

Creating a sustainable solution to help these women is a dream realized for Columbus soHza sister Claire Coder.  Claire is the founder of auntflow.org, a buy-one, give-one, subscription-based model for feminine hygiene products.  For every box purchased online, Aunt Flow donates one box to a woman in need.

Like Claire, Columbus soHza sister and marketing guru Nancy Kramer believes no woman should struggle to manage a natural bodily function.  That’s why she started a national movement freethetampons.org with the mission to make tampons as available as toilet paper in public restrooms.

Period shaming sends a message: when you have your period there’s something wrong with you.

The good news is, with efforts like Claire’s and Nancy’s, new events like National Menstrual Hygiene Day (menstrualhygiene.org), and recently formed partnerships like the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (wsscc.org),  action is being taken across the globe to stop period shaming in every form.  The goal: for more girls to grow up knowing that having a period is natural, healthy, and nothing to hide.  And that they have a right to the supplies they need.

Let’s do our part to break this cycle of shame for soHza sisters everywhere!

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