Here's Why It's Important To Educate Both Men & Women To End Period Poverty In Malaysia

Ending period poverty will require a collective effort.

Cover image via Bigc Studio / Vecteezy & Days for Girls International

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In Malaysia, like in many other countries, period poverty is a significant concern

Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, proper hygiene facilities, and education related to menstruation.

Malaysia introduced the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) to address various dimensions of poverty, including health, education, living standards, and income. However, there is still a need for more comprehensive support for women facing period poverty.

Image via Nabta Health

Throughout history, menstruation has been shrouded in stigma and misconceptions

It is often considered a dirty and unpleasant subject, leading to women feeling trapped, isolated, and weak during their periods.

In fact, according to the findings from the Kotex Period Poverty and Stigma study conducted in 2022, it was revealed that more than one in two female students in Malaysia want to skip school when they are on their periods.

Many cultures impose restrictions and taboos during menstruation, forcing women to keep out of sight and refrain from routine household work. Such stigmas impact women's physical and mental health, hinders open discussions about menstrual health, and perpetuates misinformation.

Periods are viewed as disgusting, dirty, and inauspicious in many cultures, often forcing women to stay away from communal or family dwellings. As soon as puberty hits, women are taught not to openly discuss their periods. When they need a pad, it is customary to discreetly ask another woman in a hushed tone, often tucking it away in a pocket or hiding it from view.

A stigma-free environment is crucial to enable women and girls to manage their periods with dignity, and to ensure they are not discriminated against in schools and the workplace.

Poor menstrual hygiene can have severe health consequences, including reproductive and urinary tract infections that may lead to future fertility issues and birth complications

The lack of proper knowledge about menstrual hygiene can also contribute to misinformation and create a culture of silence surrounding menstruation.

This ignorance can lead to significant health risks, such as urogenital infections, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, cervical cancer, and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Hormonal changes during puberty can lead to an increased risk of these infections.

Yeast infections, particularly vaginal yeast infections, can occur in girls who have reached puberty. While yeast infections are more commonly associated with adults, they can still occur in younger girls. A report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 75% of women will get at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, TSS is a potentially life-threatening condition associated with tampon use and requires immediate medical attention.

While experiencing heavy bleeding during menstruation is considered normal to a certain extent, certain symptoms warrant medical attention

If a woman faces irregularities in her menstrual cycle, such as prolonged bleeding for more than seven days per period, excessive bleeding requiring frequent tampon or pad changes, itching, burning around the vaginal area, bloating, or pelvic pressure, it is essential to promptly seek medical advice.

It is advisable to schedule regular visits to a gynaecologist for routine screenings or seek consultation if you experience symptoms such as pelvic, vulvar, and vaginal pain, as well as abnormal uterine bleeding. Other menstrual disorders also include fibroids, endometriosis, adenomyosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

To combat period poverty and break the stigma surrounding menstruation, comprehensive menstrual education is crucial

Image used for illustration purposes only.

Image via Days for Girls International

Educating both women and men about menstruation helps foster a supportive environment that empowers women and promotes understanding among all genders. Menstrual education can raise awareness about the importance of proper facilities, hygiene products, and the physical and emotional aspects of menstruation.

With proper education and awareness, men will be more empowered to act. Small steps such as advocating for clean toilets, encouraging open discussions about menstruation, and fostering a period-positive environment can bring huge impacts.

Men need to learn to be understanding and empathetic towards women experiencing menstruation. This includes being sensitive to any challenges or discomfort they may face during this time.

Ending period poverty will require a collective effort – from raising awareness and education to advocating for policy changes, dismantling taboos, and dispelling myths. Together, we can put a period to period poverty.

Dr Azizah Rusly is an Obstetrics & Gynaecologist at Aurelius Hospital Nilai.

This story is a personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of SAYS.

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