As it's reported that over three quarters of all reproductive diseases stem from poor menstrual health and misinformation surrounding periods, responsibility to improve things has fallen to young men - whatever the consequences...
Schools in Kenya have a problem. There are enough textbooks, teachers, pens and pencils. They’ve confronted cultural prejudice head on, and convinced 83% of parents to allow their daughters to attend. But still, once a month, every month, more than three quarters of their female pupils disappear. Sometimes for up to two weeks at a time.
“For once, it’s not because they’re being encouraged to stay at home, to raise a family or fulfill an outdated, uneducated gender stereotype,” explains Barclay Paul, 23, who has spent the last four years working in rural schools around Kenya and trying to understand what’s holding girls’ education back. “It’s because whenever they get their periods, they don’t have access to the products that they need in order to live normally when they’re menstruating.”
Now founder of the ‘Safi Pad’ – Kenya’s first ever reusable, affordable sanitary towel – Paul has found himself at the forefront of a global revolution of guys who have realized it’s time for men to share the responsibility of women’s menstrual health.
In May, 15-year-old Jose Garcia hit headlines when he brought tampons to school for his girlfriends. “We should all help each other out like this,” he says of his hashtag campaign, #realmensupportwomen. “After all, we don’t have to go through menstruation, so it’s just logical that we help.” Meanwhile, in India, where 70% of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, high-school drop out Arunachalam Muruganantham has endured years of social ostracization for defying cultural norms and developing a portable machine that not only enables women to make their own sanitary pads, but gives them the opportunity to sell the finished products and start their own businesses too.
In fact, raising a generation of open-minded, informed teenage boys is so crucial, Femme International has spent the last two years developing a ‘Boys Health Programme’ to educate men around the world. “It is essential that men and boys are involved in this conversation,” explains Sabrina Rubli, the charity’s Executive Director. “Men are often in control of household finances, and girls are often uncomfortable asking for money to purchase sanitary pads. But by talking about menstruation with boys, the subject will be normalised and the stigma reduced.”
“Menstrual health is an issue that affects the whole of society – not just the women,” Paul adds. “Men are wary of getting involved – my dad struggled to be supportive when I told him what I was working on, and 14 banks refused my business proposal. But as soon as I explain how important it is to help our wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, then guys come round to the idea really quickly. These days I see fathers queuing up to buy Safi Pads for their whole family. Things are finally changing.”