Young women and girls around the globe struggle every day with the reality that classrooms are typically oriented to cater to the needs of boys and young men and neglect the care that women often require to complete their education. The largest drop-out percentage of young women in the classroom occurs around the age of sexual maturity when young women begin to get their periods. These occurrences are often seen in African and South Asian countries where women are not provided easy access to feminine hygiene products or proper access to healthy sex education, including education about menstruation.
A mix of period stigma and miseducation can lead to a risk of unfavorable and embarrassing reactions to young girls by their male peers while menstruating. This menstrual education inequality can manifest in many different forms, such as young girls opting to miss school while menstruating to avoid stigmatization, girls not having access to girls-only bathrooms and sanitary products or methods to deal with bleeding, and a lack of female teachers or a supportive educational environment.
In some cultures, menstruation is demonized, some believing that if a woman is on her period, she is dirty and will contaminate her surroundings, even going so far as to claim that menstrual blood can make people ill if they come in contact with it. This demonization is dangerous because it creates learned shame and aversion to seeking out further education around the menstrual process, and as an extension, sexual safety as a whole.
Periods can become stigmatized in many different ways, including but not limited to, miseducation, learned shame, cultural taboos, or deep-rooted sexism and period demonization. Period stigma exists across the globe, from women referring to their period with code names (i.e., “Code Red,” or “Devil’s Waterfall”) to women being isolated while menstruating. But in countries and communities that do not have proper access to education about menstruation or access to sanitary products, it is difficult to end that stigmatization and that has a greater effect on young women’s future access to opportunity.
Inability to access menstrual products also plays a large role in whether or not a young woman can attend school. If a young woman has no access to sanitary products, she will likely either stay home or use alternative materials that are unsanitary. This puts her in a difficult position to choose between risking falling behind in her education or risking infection and further complications regarding her health.
Many organizations and communities have come up with different methods to battle the stigma surrounding periods and provide young women with more equal access to opportunity despite cultural taboos or the inability to access sanitary products. Many places work to increase young women’s access to menstrual products at school as well as separate bathrooms for adolescent women especially. Volunteer programs such as Be The Change Volunteers based in Columbia, Missouri has worked to build not only more classrooms for a school in rural Peru but also separate bathrooms for boys and girls to encourage young women to continue their education. Practicing proper education about menstruation is part of the important work non-profits as well as organizations as large as the UN are working to encourage in communities where periods are dangerously stigmatized. Encouraging nations to provide access to tax-free and affordable sanitary products is also work that the UN and other organizations are doing.
Young women are put at an educational disadvantage through the stigmatization of periods. Absence from school for a week at a time every month makes it exceedingly difficult for young women to keep up in the classroom. If the key to the working world is education, women are being put at a disadvantage through no fault of their own due to a biological predisposition that they cannot control. Menstruation is not something that a woman can control and therefore should not put her at a disadvantage compared to her male counterparts.