When it comes to global development, women’s empowerment is the key and a major obstacle that stands in the way of bringing all women to the forefront is the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation.
Periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries (Femme International). In Kenya, girls miss an average of 4.9 days of school each month because of a lack of access to adequate menstrual hygiene. In rural Uganda, girls miss up to the 8 days of school each term. That is almost a full week of class. 25% of one’s school month. Think about that…because of periods, girls are missing almost a whole quarter of their classes.
In many countries, periods can be scary for what menstruation symbolizes — the transition from being a child to a woman, ready to be a wife and mother. In some other countries, as I have learned, getting your period can be the signifying event that prompts female genital mutilation, child marriage, and dropping out of school.
Inadequate menstrual hygiene management also has negative mental and physical consequences. In India, 70% of reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, and the effects can go so far as to affect maternal mortality. Unclean methods of maintaining menstrual hygiene caused by a lack of resources, or lack of education on the usage of products, can lead to infections ranging from skin irritation to the something more fatal, like toxic shock syndrome. Poor menstrual hygiene management may also cause strange bodily odors and bleeding through one’s clothes, which causes women and girls to feel nervous and self-conscious when on their period.
We all need to become advocates for natural needs. In the US, only about 20% of our government positions are held by women, and if that 80% who are men are afraid to talk about menstruation, women and girls all around the world will continue to feel silenced and less capable on their periods. The menstrual movement is a universal movement, and it starts now, with all of us!
My passion for menstrual hygiene formed during my family’s experience with losing our own home during my freshman to sophomore year of high school, and through conversations with homeless women I met. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, when my family saved up enough for us to move back into our two-bedroom apartment in Portland, I founded Camions of Care . What started as a personal project to use savings to buy and hand out menstrual hygiene products on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization.
Camions of Care is now a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, youth leadership, and service—through the global distribution of menstrual hygiene products and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters.
Right now, 37 states in the United States have a luxury tax on tampons, we hope to change that because menstrual hygiene is not a privilege, it is a right. We are also going to push for menstrual hygiene products to be funded for accessibility at public institutions (homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and public schools) like they are doing in New York. In the future, we also hope to ensure that government assistance programs include menstrual hygiene products in the category of “hygiene materials” that are made available.
Camions of Care helps women to feel dignified and clean during their periods by giving them menstrual hygiene products. The women that we serve are low income or homeless, and generally would not spend the little money they have on menstrual hygiene. We are always striving to find sustainable solutions, trying to secure reusable products like menstrual cups and fabric pads. Camions of Care empowers women and youth voices, period.
Here’s how you can help:
- Get involved by starting a chapter with other youth from your area and start a menstruation station at your school to make menstrual hygiene products more accessible!
- Collect items with a menstrual hygiene product drive.
- Contribute to our cause. For every dollar raised, another woman is served.
- Spread word about our organization by sharing our videos. Every amount of support makes a difference and we hope you join our #menstrualmovement.
Nadya Okamoto is an 18-year-old first-year student at Harvard College from Portland, Oregon. Besides being a big sister, dancer, and student, she is also the Founder and Executive Director of Camions of Care. Camions of Care is a youth-run global nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education, and service. In the last two years they have addressed over 48,000 periods and keep expanding from 60 campus chapters.