Fourteen-year-old Saudah lives in one of the poorest areas of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. She wears a uniform and attends school just like the boys, but her access to education becomes compromised when she, like more than 2 billion others in the world, gets her period.
In Kampala, an eight-pack of pads costs the equivalent of $100 U.S. dollars, so she is forced to use scrap cloth that is unabsorbent and difficult to clean. With one toilet for every 60 students, she can forget about changing her cloth at school — there’s no privacy and no water. So she, like countless others around the world, is forced to make a difficult decision: use just one cloth for the entire day and risk leaks and infections, or stay home and miss out on her education?
In her new book “It’s Only Blood: Shattering the Taboo of Menstruation,” researcher Anna Dahlqvist traveled to Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh and India to conduct interviews with women and activists about the connection between money, gender, power and menstrual shame.
What Dahlqvist discovers will be unsurprising to many: “that the unmet menstrual needs of women and girls puts them at a huge disadvantage to men, which contributes to their social, economic, and political subordination in the constant interplay between gender and power.”
“In the long run,” Dahlqvist explained, “by being denied access to education and work, women and girls are prevented from becoming equal citizens. They are held back.”
Breaking out of these taboos is difficult, Dahlqvist said, because activists often have to first show an impact on a company’s economic performance, or a school’s academic performance, before women are given access to “menstrual products, water, toilets, waste bins, and knowledge that are required for those who menstruate to have access to education, work or — well — just life on equal terms with those who do not menstruate.”
“Our bodies are celebrated when we bear children. But menstruation — a prerequisite for pregnancy — is something we are expected to hide,” Dahlqvist said.
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These downfalls don’t just occur in Third World countries, she said, but can be felt here in the United States. Dahlqvist references numerous lawsuits brought against Walmart for preventing employees from visiting the bathroom, as well as the fact that the Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to disclose ingredients used in menstrual products.
Written in an accessible style, “It’s Only Blood” is a marvelous blend of individual women’s experiences, activism and academic research. While the text could benefit from a bit more structure, the subject matter is so compelling and engaging, it’s easy to get swept up in this important text.
A remarkable educational text for all genders, “It’s Only Blood” is eye-opening read.