They call 2015 the Year of the Period. That's pretty weird isn't it? Why was progress on periods so important? Isn't it just a non-issue small inconvenience that women just deal with?
Sure, for the privileged.
If you're raised with an adequate sexual education and the money and resources to access menstrual hygiene products, your period isn't such a big deal! You can move through life without fear of dirtying your clothes, and nobody ever need know you have it.
But if you have no idea what your period is, why you get it or how to care for it, getting your period can mean the total derailment of your life. Permanently.
Right now, millions of women live without access to hygienic or reliable products to manage their menstruation. They avoid stains on their clothes by using makeshift scraps from around the home or gathered from outside. They live with fear of infection, stains on their clothes or worse, the fear of being found out for bleeding.
Many also live under the burden of myths and misinformation that tells them their body is sick, dirty or sinful. Because many cultures, such as in Hindu society, do not allow discussion or education around periods. They even go as far as to forbid a menstruating woman to touch babies, food or water, or religious iconography. This is why it's a much bigger life inconvenience than you may first have realised.
Having your period means spending a week a month home from school, or at worst, dropping out entirely from fear or shame of being seen. Around 20% of Indian schoolgirls will drop out because of their period. For other women it means taking time off from the workplace or your home chores. It means abandoning your household duties and hiding from your community while you are bleeding. It means you cannot handle food or the water jug, or sleep on your bed, because you believe you are contaminated and could compromise the health of others.
In many parts of the world, half the population are hiding themselves away for 12 weeks of the year. This impact on not only the women's lives but also the economy of their community is enormous, which is further ammunition as to why the taboo over periods has to end. For the sake of everyone.
Yes, for their own health and happiness women deserve a sexual education. But the impact on global development makes this issue even more pressing.
When women become agents of their own bodies and are able to manage their periods, they can fully participate in life and chase their goals. They can get an education and gain employment. They can participate in their home and community life and attend festivals. In this way, entire societies and economies are pulled up by the doubling of the workforce. When half the world is held back, everyone suffers.
Girls and women need to be taught about hygiene to take back control of their lives and prevent the spread of disease. They need to be empowered to see that their period isn't a curse, and they can still contribute massive value to the world around them despite this monthly interruption.
Initiatives like Days for Girls, Afripads and Pads4Girls are doing good work on getting girls back in the classroom and the workplace by giving them the education and resources to manage their periods, and it's work that needs to be given a lot more credit.
My Saheli Designs initiative will be delivering 16 Days for Girls washable menstrual kits in February, and while at first it may have seemed frivolous, menstrual hygiene plays a much bigger role in development.
Women deserve healthy, safe periods to facilitate full participation in life. And they deserve to be freed of the shame and stigma they feel towards their own bodies.
Periods are a sign of good health, and they should be celebrated. Here's to another Year of the Period!