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By Carlena Knight

On today’s observance of World Menstruation Hygiene Day, the local arm of the Red Cross is hoping to bring awareness to the topic.

The body’s community engagement and accountability officer, Nikisha Smith, said women are affected by the lack of resources and education about menstruation.

“It is a day that highlights the cost of being a woman. It brings awareness to the difficulties women have and even though a whole half of the population is going through this, there is a lot of information that is not being distributed throughout the public so this is what this day is about,” she told Observer.

 “On average, a woman spends nearly 2,575 days of her life menstruating and, according to statistics, you have nine million girls aged 13 to 19 who miss a week of school every month because they don’t have pads.

“This is something that every woman goes through, but not everyone has access to hygiene products and that’s almost like a human rights issue. Why is it they can’t access pads? And if you think that it doesn’t happen in Antigua, I am sorry to say that it does. I am a teacher and I talk to other teachers and they sometimes must dip into their own pockets to provide pads for students because it’s not provided at home.”

She added that the average Antiguan woman spends about $30 per month on sanitary pads and “that’s like on the cheap end, and this Covid-19 pandemic which is characterised by unemployment, lay-off or docking of hours has made this issue more abundant because you are going to have to spend that money on your hygiene products regardless of whether you’re working or not.

“So, at the Red Cross, what we are finding now is that a lot of people are requesting hygiene products,” Smith said.

With this demand, the Red Cross will be distributing personal hygiene packages to the most needy women in the society.

Plans to hold talks to address the stigma surrounding menstruation are also in the works.

 “We are going to be explaining to them that menstruation is normal. It is okay and it does not make you different. Also, what we are going to target is people think that this makes us the weaker sex. As in, I know that some of my female friends in the Defence Force, a male-dominated workplace, they say you can’t do this or can’t do that for the whole month.

“She is going to have her period and is going to be down for three to eight days and it makes us feel like because of this natural cycle we cannot compete in a category with men in certain aspects,” Victoria Charlton, the Red Cross’ Covid-19 field officer, said.

She added that because such behaviour is typical in male-dominated arenas, “we are trying to remove all of that stigma and educate females on how to keep themselves clean, tidy and ready for absolutely anything where menstrual cycles are concerned”.

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