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Why Water is a Feminist Issue

There’s this unspoken community in the lady’s room between women* that when someone is caught without a tampon, someone else will reach into their purse to share. 

Quite a few of us have been there.

But have you ever stopped to think that we’re not just lucky that Sandra had a spare Playtex? You may be a part of the lucky few to have a bathroom with running water where you can discreetly clean any messes, apply the product, and wash your hands in the sink. 

783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water worldwide and 2.4 billion people are living without improved sanitation facilities, which poses disproportionate problems for females. 

So many women go without feminine hygiene products, and historically, the alternatives are harrowing. Egypt is reportedly the first country to use something akin to tampons, but the use of elephant or crocodile dung or pessaries soaked in everything from goose fat to opium is less than safe by any standards. 

Because of a lack of access to clean water, women on their periods have been considered “unclean” for millennia; Leviticus 15:19 declares that “When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening,” as though having a period was a communicable disease. Relics of this sexist perception are still maintained in different ways across the world today.

Even with Pamprin, access to modern plumbing, hot rice packs, chamomile tea, Ben & Jerry’s, and as many pads as you need, your period still can make you feel like your life is on pause. 

Now imagine not being able to stem the bleeding or clean yourself, and your entire community tells you that you cannot be touched or seen in public.

Even while laws may change and stigmas may subside slightly, there is still the practical problem of not being able to do anything while you’re bleeding, and the inability to sanitarily clean yourself can endanger your health. 

If you can’t contain the bleeding and have no place to apply feminine hygiene products, attending school becomes impossible. If a healthy menstruation period is considered somewhere between 2 and 7 days and a complete cycle is an average of 28 days, even girls with healthy cycles could be bleeding 8 days a month. Imagine how quickly these missed days at school add up and what a detriment this is to a young girl’s education.

And without a proper education, she will be stuck in a cycle of poverty.

That’s why organizations like Days for Girls International offer Days for Girls kits and opportunities to make producing and selling these kits a sustainable source of income for women in developing nations. They know that mobility and cleanliness during periods promotes a healthy environment and provides more opportunities to women and young girls, either professionally or educationally. Learn more about their wonderful mission here.

Periods are not the only detriment to a young girl’s education; “household chores, such as fetching water, keep many girls out of school. Even if girls do manage to go to school, they are sent to fetch water when it is needed. Most other household chores – including cleaning latrines and garbage disposal – also fall to women and girls. When family members become sick (often due to hygiene-related diseases), girls are more likely to be kept home to care for them.” They are disproportionately tasked with these chores, which takes time away from social, economic, and educational development. 

Unfortunately, access to hygiene products alone is not enough. However, “providing water closer to homes increases girls’ free time and boosts their school attendance. All children need a sanitary and hygienic learning environment, but the lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools has a stronger negative impact on girls than on boys. Girls need safe, clean, separate and private sanitation facilities in their schools.” 

Tomorrow, count how many times you use running water, and consider how many of the products we enjoy on a daily basis require clean water to be made.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing exercise in gratitude if everyone donated in dollars the number of times they used water in one day to an organization that brings clean water to those without it?

Article by Sarah Henry | Image by Still Poetry Photography

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