Living Faith

Breaking the Stigma

Navigating menstruation with confidence and care

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel
Breaking the Stigma
Photo by M. on Unsplash

I am 18 years old and live in a developing country. Often young men demean women over the cycle of monthly menstruation and regard it only as a barrier to possible sexual liaisons. Sometimes we don’t even have clean water to ensure good hygiene. Please share some hope.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Menstruation is an essential monthly physiological process that marks a crucial aspect of a woman’s reproductive health and reflects the amazing, God-designed, and God-entrusted gift of the procreation of humankind. Understanding the intricacies of menstruation is vital not only for promoting women’s well-being but also for dismantling societal stigmas surrounding this natural cycle.

Menarche marks the beginning of the process during early adolescence, and it ceases at menopause in midlife. The menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormonal fluctuations orchestrated by the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries. On average it spans 28 days, divided into distinct phases named menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. Menstruation itself is the shedding of the uterine lining when fertilization does not occur. This cyclical process involves hormonal shifts, primarily estrogen and progesterone, regulating the growth and release of an egg (ovum) and preparing the uterus to sustain a potential pregnancy.

While menstruation is biologically essential, societies worldwide have perpetuated cultural taboos and stigmas around it. These social constructs contribute to the marginalization and degradation of women, fostering environments of shame and silence. Education plays a pivotal role in the destigmatization of menstruation. Implementing comprehensive sex education programs that include information on menstruation, its physiological basis, and its normalcy can challenge misconceptions and improve understanding.

Engaging in open conversations about menstruation helps dispel myths and increases social support. Normalizing discussions around menstrual periods in schools, workplaces, and households reduces associated stigma. Cultural and religious entities can further promote positive attitudes toward menstruation, dispelling disinformation that perpetuates shame.

Developing countries face limited access to sanitary materials for adolescent girls. This lack of appropriate hygiene during menstruation can lead to health issues and negatively impact a girl’s education through missed days at school. Societies must prioritize initiatives to provide accessible cost-effective and environmentally sustainable hygiene products such as reusable menstrual cups and cloth pads.

Educational programs in schools should provide information on proper hygiene practices and the use of these sanitary materials. Governments and nongovernmental organizations can collaborate to implement policies and programs that ensure the distribution of free or subsidized menstrual products in schools and communities. Additionally, initiatives promoting the establishment of proper sanitation facilities, including clean and private toilets and availability of clean water, can significantly contribute to maintaining menstrual hygiene. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is proactively working toward these goals. As a church, Seventh-day Adventists promote health and wholeness for all. Women’s health must not be neglected. Include men and boys in the conversation. Educate through our churches, schools, and health-care institutions. By addressing societal stigmas and providing sanitary materials for adolescents in developing countries, we can foster a society in which menstruation is destigmatized, and every woman and girl can manage their menstrual health with dignity and confidence.

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel