By Virginia Terry
Jyoti, a fearless young woman from Uttar Pradesh, India, took a stand against menstrual stigma. As part of our partner Milaan Foundation's Girl Icon program, she raised awareness about period poverty and fought for inclusive menstrual health education. Despite initial resistance, Jyoti's creative street-play event changed hearts and minds in her community. Now, she's expanding her advocacy to neighboring villages, spreading the message of empowerment and breaking the silence around menstruation.
Menstruation is a natural part of life for half of the world's population, yet it remains a persistent barrier to girls' education. According to UNICEF, in some countries, girls miss up to 20% of the school year due to menstruation. UNESCO reports that one in ten girls in southern Africa misses school during their periods. In India, nearly a quarter of girls drop out of school when they begin menstruating according to BMC Public Health.
Many girls around the world face shame and stigma when it comes to periods. Taboos and cultural beliefs prevent them from learning about menstrual hygiene, and in some cases, girls are even excluded from going to school altogether while they are menstruating.
Too often, the cost of menstrual products such as pads and tampons is prohibitively high for girls or their families. When they can't afford these products, they miss school during their periods, which can cause them to fall behind in their studies and miss important opportunities for advancement.
At Girl Rising, we have long recognized the urgent need to address the barriers to girls' education caused by menstruation. Films such as Pandora’ Box and reports such as UNESCO’s Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management, have helped shine a spotlight on the issue. And the work of organizations such as ZanaAfrica and Femme International have helped to break the stigma around menstruation. At Girl Rising, we believe that menstrual hygiene education is a fundamental aspect of promoting gender equality and ensuring that all girls can reach their full potential. For In Girl Rising’s work in Assam, India, our curriculum explained the process of menstruation to adolescent girls and encouraged them to identify stereotypes associated with it. Through group activities, spoken word, and role-playing activities, we helped break down taboos and myths. This month, Debbie Odenyi, our Program Manager in Kenya will be participating as a panelist in the Drawing Dreams’ Menstrual Health Summit in Nanyuki, Laikipia County to explore strengthening partnerships to achieve menstrual equity. In the coming months we will be integrating lessons and activities that raise awareness about the relevance and importance of menstrual health hygiene throughout our educational programs in all the regions where we work..
As we observe Menstrual Hygiene Day, we urge everyone to join us in breaking the silence around menstruation and advocating for girls' education. By addressing this persistent barrier, we can create a world where all girls learn, rise, and thrive.