SEATTLE, Washington — The Republic of Angola is a large country in Central Africa with a population of more than 31 million people. It is still recovering from its 27-year civil war that left the country in disarray and caused most of the population to live in poverty. While the country is slowly restoring its economy and way of living, period poverty in Angola remains a prominent issue.
Period poverty is what happens when girls and women’s education, work or health is at risk due to lack of products, cleanliness, income or knowledge on the subject of menstruation. It is also “commonly defined as poor menstrual knowledge and access to sanitary products.” In fact, period poverty affects millions of young girls and women.
A 2016 study by Human Rights Watch estimated that one in 10 girls are missing or dropping out of school because of their periods across Africa. Most women and girls in Africa do not have access to menstrual pads due to high costs or products being unavailable, especially those from rural areas. Women in impoverished rural communities and those living in displacement camps struggle with poor access to water and sanitation as well.
How Period Poverty Impacts Girls in Angola
Period poverty in Angola is strikingly high. Primary education in Angola lasts for 171 days for children ages seven to 11. If the average menstrual cycle lasts five days, young girls could potentially miss around 60 of the 171 school days due to the inability to afford menstrual products or from worrying about bullying.
The lack of access to menstrual pads is exposing girls and women to various genital infections as they seek other options. Some girls even resort to creating makeshift pads out of tissues, rags, old newspaper or leaves. Reports show that women using reusable absorbent pads were more likely to have symptoms of urogenital disease than women using disposable pads.
To properly maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, women and girls need access to accurate information as well as safe, effective and affordable contraception methods of their choice. Informing women about their reproductive health can empower them to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, especially when they can avoid them.
Menstruating and Taboos
Some cultures see a woman’s menstruation as a taboo issue and that menstruating women are unclean. This attitude is one of the causes of period poverty. In Angola, a woman during menstruation is considered to be “impure and remains concealed from all eyes. She must be shut up for six days without being seen by anyone.”
These stigmas can keep women and girls from touching water or cooking, attending religious ceremonies or engaging in community activities, which leads to confidence issues and gender-based discrimination. Global studies show a link between menstruation and lost wages. Women around the world experience limited access to sanitation facilities in the workplace.
How Sanitation and Education Can Help
When women and girls gain access to safe and affordable menstrual products, they are able to maintain a healthy and successful life. They do not have to miss school or endure diseases caused by unhygienic methods. Many organizations strive to achieve this by providing hygiene kits to women and girls who need them in Angola and other places around the world. Menstrual hygiene kits, sometimes called dignity kits, enable women to safely and hygienically manage their monthly period with dignity.
With the absence of sexual education programs in the general education system in Angola, taboos in sexuality continue to have an effect on how others think of a menstruating woman. Education on menstruation is a big part of ending period poverty. It would help girls understand what is happening to their bodies, what to do and how to prevent genital diseases. Furthermore, it allows them to be more confident in their abilities and aim for higher goals. Sexual education would also help boys understand more about menstruation, which could lessen the effects of the societal taboos on girls.
It is possible to end period poverty in Angola. With sexual education, health services and affordable products, women and girls can gain the confidence to be the best version of themselves.
– Madeline Oden