Breaking Barriers

Dibarah Mahboob speaks to the brave young girls from around the country who are fighting to change the silence and shame around menstruation, supported by Senora’s awareness campaign.

In many families in Bangladesh still, menstruation is a sign that is it time for a girl to get married. About 52% of the female population is of reproductive age at this moment in time and most of them are menstruating every month, a very natural process. As soon as they start, 68% of Bangladeshi women are forced to get married within 1-4 years of menstruation. Recently, the sanitary pad company Senora designed a campaign to promote greater awareness on menstrual hygiene because despite the natural process women are going through, around 97% Bangladeshi women are suffering from cervical infections due to unhygienic menstruation management practices. In Bangladesh, garment workers miss working for an average of 6 unpaid days per month due to vaginal infection. In rural areas, millions of women suffer from an exposed or enlarged uterus which hampers their normal sexual life and instigates their partners to marry again or indulge in extramarital relationships.

Nanziba Khan
Jannatul Ferdous
Tisha Twinkle
Mahmuda Khan

Only 15% of Bangladeshi women use hygienic sanitary napkins during menstruation. With an aim to popularise more informed hygiene practices, Senora’s campaign had planned to incorporate well-known media faces and celebrities to raise awareness for the cause. Despite the obvious benefits and need for campaigns, the selected celebrities declined to have their faces associated with a period-awareness campaign. The very biological cycle that allowed them to bear children and regulate hormones, were met with avoidance and denial from influential persons. But is that even surprising? A survey revealed that 64% of girls are not introduced to menstruation by their parents or guardians before menarche, the onset of one’s period (Source: Bangladesh Today). Period-talk remains a big, red taboo topic – and it comes with a price.

While celebrities have an image and personal brand-tarnishing conditions at play that cause them to think against their affiliations, women from around the country are waking up to the tyranny of an antiquated mindset. Ordinary women from different walks of life have risen to the occasion to support the campaign, which reached them via Senora’s Facebook Campaigning.

40% of school going girls miss school at least 3 days per month due to periods, alongside female teachers who also miss class frequently. “We women need to come forward for the sake of avoiding health problems owing to the lack of awareness and closed culture,” said Jannatul Ferdous, a campaign participant and an HSC student. Most Bangladeshi families are too poor to buy sanitary pads and instead use rags torn from old saris and other clothing. RITU, a menstrual hygiene awareness project co-created by RedOrange Media, Simavi, and The Netherlands Organization (TNO) conducted research regarding the menstrual taboos common in our country and the adverse effect they have on women’s lives. In their research, it was found that the clothes they use for menstruation are never exposed to any men in their families, including their brothers and father. For this reason, the clothes are often not cleaned or dried properly causing huge issues with hygiene in a highly sensitive area of the body.

According to a survey conducted by ‘National Hygiene Baseline Survey’, 89% of the girls surveyed who used cloth instead of sanitary pads during the time of menstruation stored their menstrual cloth in a hidden place and repeatedly used it without washing it properly. Doctors have raised concerns about this since it has lead a woman to infertility in the past.

“When my friends heard that I was partaking in this campaign, they were surprisingly very supportive and applauded the initiative. This shows that there is a demand for changing the status-quo,” said Mahmuda Khan, another participant of the campaign and a college student.

“If celebrities are not fulfilling their public role to further a cause that would help the lives of women as well as create awareness in men, then we have to take it up ourselves,” says Nanziba Khan, a pilot and documentary filmmaker.

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