I pledge: I will break the silence on menstruation, even if it means I end up alone at parties!

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I have to be honest: I have an interesting job. I travel around the world, meet loads of interesting people from all different kinds of cultures and the water, sanitation & hygiene business is not really boring either!

And I have to be honest: most of my friends are pretty jealous when they hear that I have spotted giraffes in Niger, have seen the Victoria falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe, tracked with chimps in Uganda, danced the night away in some dark club in Rwanda or went surfing in Senegal. This, they want to hear at parties. Darker sides of my job, the poverty, the failures and successes, is also something that people can deal with up to a certain level.

But the moment that I start going into more detail about the specifics of my job, I end up alone with a beer in some remote corner of the room. Let’s face it: people still can’t face listening or talking about urine, shit or blood. Even my colleagues chuckle and turn away shaking their heads (ooohh…there’s Sharon again). Thank God that there are people out there where I can still have some bloody serious discussions with talking for instance about menstrual hygiene. And all of this over a nice glass of wine and even some snacks!

Because let’s face the facts shall we: every day more than 800 million women menstruate! In many developing countries, there is still a taboo around menstruation, and many girls and women don’t know where menstruation is coming from or how they have to deal with it. Apart from that, there is often insufficient access to clean water, toilets and sanitary pads. This poses risks to the health and safety of girls and women, and sometimes results in them being absent a few days a month at school or at work.

Serious shit indeed! So, you can imagine my elated status last Friday, the 19th of June, when I attended the “Call to Action on Menstrual Hygiene”! The call was launched during the Volvo Ocean Race by Sara Hastreiter (a member of Team SCA, the only all female boat in the race), and is an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and various Dutch development organizations (Plan Nederland, Simavi, IRC, SNV and Rutgers) and SCA, producer of Libresse, among others.

For the first time, all Dutch stakeholders who are committed to breaking the taboo on menstruation and improve hygiene during the menstruation of women and girls in developing countries, came together. Key elements of the initiative include increased collaboration and coordination, learn from each other and work together at an international level. This for example in New York this coming September, where the long term development agenda (SDGs) is set.

We ended the day with all of us taking a pledge that women and girls in developing countries take as well:

I will break the silence on menstruation
I will not feel shy; I will take pride
I will spread the word outside and inside the home

Lets hope my friends and colleagues want to listen….otherwise there will be many more times when I end up at a party all by myself muttering about the importance of menstrual hygiene and the cool projects Plan Nederland is undertaking to improve the lives of many women!

Sharon Roose is Program Advisor Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at Plan Netherlands. She is the co-author of a forthcoming Frontiers issue on integrating Menstrual Hygiene Management into CLTS.

Date: 26 June 2015
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