A recent piece by Meghan Markle: ‘How Periods Affect Potential‘ in TIME magazine highlighted the affects of the stigmatism of menstruation within several cultures that govern developing countries. This stigmatism not only prevents young girls from receiving access to proper sanitation devices to manage their periods, but also prevents young girls from leaving the confines of their homes; the biggest repercussion of which being girls having to abandon their education at the average age of thirteen. Whilst I am baffled as to how a natural bodily function experienced by almost every female warrants attitudes of shame associated with weakness and uncleanliness, Markle interrogates how and why this stigmatism resonates so deeply within so many cultures.
The article not only presents compelling arguments in favour of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), but also highlights how the issue has failed to make regional and global agendas, despite the likes of Michelle Obama and various NGOs speaking on the topic. Contrary to popular belief, the MHM conversation is not another ‘feminist rant’ to change attitude toward an isolated issue, but is a conversation which serves as a catalyst for educating the girls who so rightfully deserve an education, but are being denied one because of a biological function that they have no control over. Together with initiatives such as India’s ‘Save the girl, educate the girl’ and ‘#Let Girls Learn’ the conversation needs to be steered in the direction of MHM.
How do we do this, and where do we go from here? Lucky for us, WASH united has come to the rescue with Menstrual Hygiene Day, which looks to take place on the 28th May, in effort to ‘break the silence’ surrounding MHM by raising awareness and educating globally on the issues which surround it.
Markle’s efforts in highlighting the importance of MHM speaks volumes to not only the commitment we should all have to the MHM conversation, but teaches us that without investing in such initiatives, generations of girls will suffer from this ill-founded stigmatism. In the words of Markle:
‘To break the cycle of poverty, and to achieve economic growth and sustainability in developing countries, young women need access to education. When we empower girls hungry for education, we cultivate women who are emboldened to effect change within their communities and globally. If that is our dream for them, then the promise of it must begin with us. Period.’
With gender inequality penetrating every community, and the dominant ‘norm’ being overwhelmingly comprised of middle aged men, it is easy to point toward this patriarchal establishment as the reason for gender inequality running wide, as well as deep. But how many of us have actually stopped to consider how we got here? How did this small, hardly representative group, become the dominant group? The privileged group?
Whilst an array of answers are offered up by the scholars, feminist thinkers and (unfortunately) Sarah Palins of the world, I find the most compelling justification in Carole Pateman’s 1988 publication ‘The Sexual Contract’. Pateman explains the idea for her book originated from taking a feminist reading of existing texts, which led her to develop an extensive critique of the contracts relationality is derivative of. Where most thinkers swept the construct of the patriarchy aside as ‘ahistorical and timeless’, Pateman argued the employment, marital and sexual contracts lacked diversity when they were formulated; they were designed by the dominant group, for the dominant group.
Every contract stated for an individual to relinquish their autonomy and serve as labourers, wives or prostitutes was justified, because such individuals are free to decide do so. Pateman, however, suggests such autonomy in relation to women, ethnic minorities and the lower classes never existed, as they were excluded from formulating the very contracts the concept of freedom is detailed within. It is illogical that women and labourers can freely make the decision to labour, be married, or prostituted, because these contracts were designed to exploit them in these capacities. Furthermore, without such demand from the dominant group for these services, they cannot freely ‘supply’ them.
As well as highlighting a key underlying factor contributing to the oppression of women throughout history, Pateman’s criticisms identify a key component in which change must be mobilised, to be sustained. In order for women to be afforded the same rights as men in the private and public setting, they must be afforded a seat at the table. The international pools of public officials formulating policy can no longer be restricted to the dominant group – they can no longer be restricted to men. However, as modern democracies highlight, it’s not enough to give a woman a seat at the table (or much less your daughter one, paired with no official title); women need progressive, proactive, reliable and accountable figures to influence in visible spaces of influence.
As much as I would like to sit around and blame the patriarchy for the host of issues plaguing women today, instead, I am choosing to invest my time in the women and stories that are changing the game. The women who are progressive, proactive, reliable and view themselves as accountable to every woman in the world. In doing so, I can only hope it inspires you to do the same, because there is a need, if not a duty, for us empowered women, to empower other women.