By Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global
The Bejing Platform for Action recently celebrated its’ 20th birthday. As a source of guidance and action for empowering women and achieving gender equality, the Platform has witnessed a number of improvements in womens’ well-being. Yet, there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality and improve the lives of women.
As One words it, “Poverty is sexist”. It’s true too. While the 1.2 billion living in extreme poverty is a mix of men and women, it is too often women and girls that bear the weight of this extreme poverty. Women have less access to resources like credit, land and property rights and education. They are often the last to eat, to receive healthcare and often experience less decision-making power, even over their own reproductive health. One fundamental thread to equality and empowerment of women and girls is that of reproductive health. This is clearly represented as a crux to the Sustainable Development Goals of:
1.) Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere,
2.) Achieving zero hunger,
4.) Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all,
5.) Achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls,
6.) Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all and
8.) Promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
Looming largest of all is the issue of menstruation. Girls, who are unprepared, through lack of education and guidance or access to menstrual hygiene materials, are less likely to regularly attend school. To compound the issue, a lack of clean, private and safe toilets, safe water and hygiene practices (for disposal and clean-up), further limits girls from attending and staying in school during menstruation. Girls can miss 11%- 20% of the school year due to menstruation and UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 African girls misses school during menstruation, which contributes to higher school dropout down the line. Girls who don’t attend school grow up to face even fewer opportunities to escape poverty and hunger. Studies suggest that even one additional year of school has the potential to increase a woman’s future earnings by roughly 15%.
Evidence has shown that women, though often victims are also the strongest tool to eradicating poverty and hunger. The benefits that accompany female education improve the welfare of their own lives, their children, communities, nation and even the global society. For instance, if all women were to complete primary school it is predicted that low- and middle-income countries would experience a 15% reduction in under-five mortality rates. Female empowerment, especially through increased academic attendance and economic opportunities, can also contribute to a zero hunger world.
To empower women and in response, eliminate poverty and improve global well-being there needs to be a refined focus on menstruation. The Sustainable Development Goals 4 – 6 and 8 should incorporate menstruation hygiene and management into indicators and at the national level, into guidelines and action plans. First and foremost, there needs to be a dialogue with girls, about menstruation. All over the world, there is a general sense of secrecy and compulsion to hide menstruation. This pattern must end so that female empowerment can be fully realized. Once the space for discussion has been created, girls can express their concerns, needs, and questions. Girls must be informed and prepared for menstruation prior to their first period, and just as important, men and boys should be informed about female puberty and how to contribute to supportive environments. All water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) initiatives should consider menstruation to create accommodating settings, especially ones that focus on school programs.