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Menstrual Hygiene: Removing The Stigma

Menstrual health and hygiene is essential to the hygiene of women and young adolescents. Billions of people menstruate globally and yet stigma still silences many. Education on menstruation alongside open and honest discussion can help change the lives of many people.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is an annual awareness day, which was initiated in 2014 to help break the silence and to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management.

The process of menstruation has not changed but menstrual hygiene has continued to evolve through the centuries. Globally, approximately 52% of the female population (26% of the total population) is of reproductive age. *** Most females will menstruate each month for between two and seven days. Whilst the menstrual cycle varies for each individual, it remains a natural part of the reproductive cycle in which blood and tissue from the uterus is lost through the vagina. Unfortunately, this process remains a taboo in many communities across the globe. Therefore, it is rarely talked about, and even less understood. As a result, the practical challenges of menstrual hygiene are made even more difficult by various socio-cultural factors.

Most females menstruate monthly without any adverse problems , however there are a sizeable number who suffer from pre- menstrual symptoms such as :-

  • Bloating, and breast tenderness.

  • Fatigue, Mood swings, irritability

  • Abdominal pain/cramping

  • Lower back pain

  • Food cravings

  • Headache

These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in some cases they may need to be hospitalised.

You are advised to consult your GP if you have big changes in your cycle as they may be signs of other problems, for instance, bleeding between periods, bleeding after having sex, or bleeding after the menopause.

Sanitary products

As you would imagine disposal of the blood and other tissue from menstruation is crucial for the menstruating female to carry out their daily activities. There are various devices and products that can be used to collect the menstruation blood flow. These are generally referred to as sanitary products. Some of the below mentioned products are prevalent in more rural communities:-

  • Menstrual Cloth

  • Disposable Sanitary pads

  • Tampons

  • Menstrual cups

Menstrual Cloth

Menstrual cloth pads are worn in the underwear to collect menstrual fluid (blood from uterine lining). They are a type of reusable menstrual hygiene product, and are an alternative to disposable sanitary napkins or to menstrual cups. Because they can be reused, they are generally less expensive than disposable pads over time, and reduce the amount of waste produced. You will find them mostly in developing countries.

Disposable Sanitary pad

Disposable sanitary pads are strips of padding that have a sticky side you attach to your underwear to hold them in place. One side of the pad is made of an absorbent material that soaks up the blood. Pads come in many sizes, so you can choose one to suit how heavy or light your period is.

In a Museum of Menstruation, it is said that as early as the 1890s the Germans, the British, and Americans could buy disposable menstrual pads.


Tampons are small tubes of absorbent material such as cotton that a menstruating female inserts into the vagina to soak up the blood before it comes out of her body.

There are 2 types of tampon - ones comes with an applicator and others without. You insert with your fingers. In both cases, there's a string at one end of the tampon, which you pull to remove. Tampons come with full instructions on how to use it and can be found in pharmacies and supermarkets. Generally it is recommended change tampons every 4-8 hours. It is important to ensure that you check and remove tampons regularly when wearing them.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are an alternative to sanitary pads and tampons. The cup is made from silicone and you put it inside your vagina. Menstrual cups collect the blood rather than absorb it. Unlike sanitary pads and tampons, which are thrown away after they've been used, you can wash menstrual cups and use them again.

Understanding menstruation is essential for many, but discussed by few. Open and honest conversations around Menstruation, sanitary options and choices could help billions of girls globally. Lets start the change and educate others.

Watch out for part 2 of the menstrual Hygiene series.


Tina Oby-Onyia

EWAD Founding President

EWAD Community Services and Products Coordinator

----------- References

Menstrual hygiene matters (2012) by “Sarah House, Thérèse Mahon and Sue Cavill

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