By: Cece Jones-Davis
In August 2014, an article was published in the Huffington Post entitled, “Menstrual Hygiene Management Must Become a Matter of Public Concern in Zimbabwe.” This instantly piqued my curiosity, as there is not often a public acknowledgement of monthly periods, other than the vague Always commercials on TV. The article described the sanitation challenges that menstruating women and girls in Zimbabwe face on a daily basis, involving low accessibility to water, sanitary products, and safe, hygienic bathrooms. As substitutes for sanitary pads, some even resort to using materials such as sand, feathers, and cow dung to absorb their menstrual flow. That was extremely disturbing to me. As a woman with all the comforts that a developed country can offer, I was shocked and completely outraged by this new revelation. How is it that as a woman committed to social equity, I’d never even considered how women and girls in underdeveloped countries manage menstruation? Better yet, as a Christian, why have I not heard of this issue in the context of global missions?
My Facebook girlfriends were equally as outraged, and as a result, The Women & Girls Working Group was formed. We have devoted ourselves to the cause first by learning, since most of us do not have an understanding of the full brevity of Menstrual Hygiene Management. Next, we are committed to doing something about it by raising awareness and money for organizations addressing this need at the grassroots level. What we now know is that on any given day, more than 800 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating, and we know that a girl’s right to receive an education is violated when school days are missed simply because she lacks the necessary sanitary products.
Then there’s the toilet problem. Many schools in developing countries cannot provide hygienic, private facilities for their students, thus contributing to absenteeism among menstruating girls. The Women & Girls Working Group recognizes this as an opportunity to directly address the problem. In honor of the United Nation’s World Toilet Day on November 19th, we have partnered with Plan International’s “Girls Empowerment through Education” (GETE) Project to build girls-only bathrooms in schools in Yeka and Akaki Kality, Ethiopia, where only 55% of girls complete primary school. We feel good about our initial steps, but are well aware that this is a mere drop in the water bucket, as 526 million women and girls worldwide do not have access to a toilet. We are committed to this cause because we believe healthy sanitation and hygiene is a human right for all people.
As a woman of faith, I have been grappling with the natural occurrence of menstruation, the practical need for toilets, and what this all has to do with the Kingdom of God. In doing so, I’m reminded of the woman with the issue of blood in the New Testament Gospels. Though her problem forced her to live on the outskirts of her clean versus unclean culture, her encounter with Jesus revolutionized her circumstance and decapitated the stigma she had been living with for so long. As a result of her story, I know that Christ came to address all manner of physical and social ailments, even Menstrual Hygiene Management for underprivileged women and girls.
The work that lies ahead for all of us is daunting but not impossible. We’ve got to take the time to stop and access the needs, no matter how taboo they may appear, and provide the virtue that will transform the lives of women and girls around the world. After all, the Kingdom of God isn’t ‘here’ or ‘there’, but inside each one of us to manifest in practical forms like water, sanitary pads, and toilets. On November 19th, World Toilet Day, the Women and Girls Working Group will recognize toilet building as kingdom building.
I hope that women (and men) everywhere will begin to bring Menstrual Hygiene Management to the forefront of global development and world missions’ dialogue and actions. I hope that menstruation doesn’t continue to be taboo, since it symbolizes the very essence of all human life. And because half the world menstruates, I hope we can begin to see adequate menstrual hygiene management as a human right- regarded with the dignity and concern that every woman and girl on the planet deserves.
The Women & Girls Working Group is a collective of women, motivated by compassion and faith, working to raise awareness and funds for Menstrual Hygiene Management issues everywhere. For more information on World Toilet Day, visit www.worldtoiletday.org
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Cece Jones-Davis is a native of Halifax, Virginia and a graduate of Howard University and Yale Divinity School, as well as and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Worship and the Arts. Sing for Change, her ministry, mobilizes faith-motivated musical artists and leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS. She is also the founder of the Women & Girls Working Group, which raises awareness about Menstrual Hygiene Management and other issues that impact women and girls globally. Cece currently works for the Obama Administration in Washington, D.C, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Mike and little girl, Halo.