Swimsuit model Nina Agdal just gave us an important reminder about period health.
I consider myself lucky to have free tampons in my office bathroom, as if it's more of a work perk than a basic need to serve my bodily functions. While I harbor a little resentment at using the word "lucky" to describe getting free tampons, I know a lot of women and girls around the world are so much further from such an accommodation.
Danish model Nina Agdal shared an important reminder on Instagram yesterday about why we need to talk about periods more openly and spotlighted a charity working toward improving the lives of women and girls around the world.
With an attention-grabbing photo in a bikini, the 26-year-old segued into a call to action for women's health. She wrote, "I'm very fortunate to have access to and be able to afford tampons, but unfortunately a lot of women don't have access to sanitary products. It results in girls missing out on several days of school, and it's not just girls education that suffers, 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Tampons, pads and other sanitary products shouldn’t be a luxury, it's a necessity for every woman and I'm hoping by posting this photo, we can talk more openly about it and support women who need it."
At the bottom of her caption, she included a hashtag with the name of the organization Days for Girls, which works to improve the conditions for women and girls around the world by developing sustainable solutions to stigmas around periods, lack of healthcare education, and minimal access to menstruation products.
"We're creating a world with dignity, health, and opportunity for all," the site reads.
Days for Girls points out that at least 500 million girls and women globally don't have the right resources to deal with their periods. Earlier this year, the New York Times highlighted a practice specific to rural areas of Nepal in which girls and women are sent to stay in huts during menstruation because they're "impure." This tradition has caused dozens of deaths in recent years by subsequent factors, like enduring freezing temperatures and being left exposed to dangerous animals, and has even left girls more susceptible to rape.
Women in a Chhaupadi hut in western Nepal during their periods, taken on February 3, 2017.
As activist Radha Paudel pointed out to the Times, “What this is, is segregation. And we as a society don’t talk enough about it. We don’t talk about dignity, we don’t talk about women’s rights.”
Girls in places like Ethiopia, Uganda, and Bangladesh have reported missing school because of their periods and not having sanitary pads, and a study in Ghana showed how not having access to things like tampons and pads made it harder for girls to concentrate and feel confident in school.
As part of their work, Days for Girls developed the Days for Girls Kit, a box full of feminine hygiene necessities. After having the kit for three years, Rachel in Nairobi, Kenya, said, "You feel free. You can go anywhere you want. You are comfortable…you can jump, run, do whatever you want to do.”
The period stigma leaves girls and women severely disadvantaged not just because it limits their access to essential products. A paper published by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) draws attention to the existence of "knowledge gaps" in many countries about menstruation that leave girls unprepared and scared when they start getting their periods and experiencing the related symptoms, like cramps, body aches, and fatigue.
Having your period doesn't need to prevent women and girls from going about their daily routines or participating in school and work–and lack of education and acceptance should never be the reason a woman or girl has to have her health seriously threatened.
Words like "tampon" and "period" aren't gross or dirty, and thinking of them this way is detrimental to women and girls around the world who need the stigma to end so their lives can be happier and healthier.
Even if you didn't know who Nina Agdal was before, let's all take a page out of her book. We should talk more openly about periods and turn that conversation into meaningful change for women and girls who could never even dream about having free tampons in places like school and work. Visit the Days for Girls site to see how you can get involved in the movement to destigmatize menstruation and break the limitations associated with it.