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Why are we all so afraid to talk openly about periods?

“Hey, I forgot to bring pads to school today, do you have any spare?’’ I whispered to my friend, afraid that my guy classmates could hear us.

This has not only happened to me, but I believe it also happens to pretty much all other women and girls. Being shy to ask or talk about periods openly in public is still a major issue for women in the Cambodian context. We wouldn’t face those difficulties if there were no barriers for us, such as period stigma and shame. Most of us still believe in many Cambodian cultural norms around menstruation, which do not allow women to chat openly about it. Is a period something that we as women should be ashamed of? Isn’t it a natural thing that everyone should be aware of? Shouldn’t it be taught properly in schools and in society, so girls have access to knowledge on menstrual hygiene practice?

It is time for us to remove the shame and

social stigma to talk about our period.

Do you know that menstruation is related to human rights? You mightn’t think it, but actually, it is. Whenever we talk about human rights, most people focus only on fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech and so on, but they can forget about the everyday rights that affect our daily lives. Human rights are the rights that every human being has by virtue of his or her human dignity (UNFPA, 2020). And, because menstruation is related to human dignity, which can suffer when women or girls can’t fully access the facilities they need during periods, or any barriers that prevent her from receiving to safe and effective information of managing their menstrual hygiene, it means that they are not able to manage their menstruation with dignity. Moreover, the stigma, teasing, shame of talking about menstruation also undermine the principle of human dignity.

“End the period stigma, everyone needs to join the discussion of menstruation regardless of gender! But why? ’’

1. Women will be aware of the best Hygiene for their menstrual cycle management

Through sharing information related to menstrual cycle management or menstrual hygiene practice, women and girls become informed about urogenital infections, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV) and urinary tract infections (UTI). Nowadays, the number of women and girls that are unable to maintain proper MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management) practices is still in a very high number, especially those who are living in the rural areas. This can be because of a lack of knowledge, or a lack of clean water and proper hygiene facilities. We need to discuss these issues openly, and phase out some local traditions that impact on hygiene – such as not taking baths during periods. Ending those local traditional beliefs will bring safer and more effective approaches to managing menstruation hygiene. Important information we can share includes changing pads every four hours, washing and drying out reusable sanitary towels properly in the sun, and washing hands after touching used sanitary pads. We need to ensure that women and girls can live in an environment that values and supports their ability to manage their menstruation without shame and stigma, but instead with dignity.

2. Pads and disposal management

Normally at home, most women and girls in Cambodia would dispose of their sanitary pads into a small black bag of plastic into the domestic solid waste or garbage bins that eventually become a part of the solid waste. And even some of the rural area women and girls dispose of it to the field around their houses which can cause significant environmental impacts. While in toilets, when there is no dustbin, they need to dispose of it in the toilet and flush it which causes sewage blockages. Do you know that talking about periods can also introduce women and girls to new ways of buying and disposing of pads that are more sustainable, even eco-friendly?

First of all, one idea to improve menstrual waste management is that it should not be disposed of along with other domestic waste in unidentifiable bags. Disposal bags, preferably made of biodegradable materials, could be provided by manufacturing companies with a certain color indicating for disposing of these wastes. The bags could then be freely distributed among schools and institutions (Kaur, 2018). This may help any people picking trash to not be exposed to any disease-causing pathogens, as well as reduce plastic waste.

Second, we encourage women and girls to start using reusable and washable pads such as menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads from Greenlady Cambodia. So that we can manage our use by having less chemical and plastic content.

Just remember that you should stop disposing of your pad's waste by flushing it down the toilet, or by throwing it into the field, because according to WWF (World Wildlife Fund Cambodia), it can take up to 500-800 years in the environment to decompose.

3. Social Issues

Without access to proper education, or facilities

such as sanitary pads, clean water, and toilets, some girls are forced to stay home during their period which can cause them to miss school for up to a week each month. Some of them drop out of school completely once they have started falling in their schoolwork as a result. Apart from that, the high levels of period stigma from male students, which can include teasing or bullying, can play a major role in preventing them from continuing at school, because they paint women or girls who menstruate as unclean and impure. Not only can this cause girls to drop out of school, but this type of stigma also can have a negative emotional impact. When women and girls don’t live in an environment where they can talk freely about their problems, this is a form of gender inequality.

4. Relationship Issues

Studies show that couples who are able to talk openly when one or both partners menstruate, have happier and more fulfilling relationships. In a heterosexual relationship, men putting in some extra effort to make women feel comfortable during their period can go a long way. This can involve offering a heat pack, some paracetamol or some nice warm soup! When a woman is out of pads, offering to go to the shop and pick some up is another great way to show you’re a supportive partner during this time.

And what about sex? Of course, it is totally up to each couple to decide whether they want to have sex while one partner is menstruating. But from a health perspective, there’s absolutely no reason not to – and couples who choose to have sex during that time should not feel ashamed.

“Join together to transform local traditions or beliefs that stop women and girls from discussing about their period.’’

In order to stop the period stigma and taboo, we need to raise awareness not only to women and girls, but to men and boys to join together as well. For women yourself, you should know that there is nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of because menstruation is a health knowledge that every human being should be aware of. Teachers should educate everyone in school without any shyness, it is your role to create creative awareness regarding Menstruation and Menstrual Waste Management. For men and boys, your roles are also to support women and girls in managing menstruation households, schools, communities etc in the name of a father, husband, brothers, colleagues, leaders, and policy makers to raise the voice of women on what they need during menstruation.

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