Women's NGO launches 'Haid, Jangan Hide' campaign to address period poverty


The ‘Haid, Jangan Hide’ programme aims to create awareness about period poverty in Malaysia and tackle the generational stigma surrounding menstruation. Photo: Freepik.com

The lack of clean and safe toilets at schools is among the reasons young girls stay out of schools, hence widening the gender disparity in society.

Menstruating schoolgirls who can’t go to the school toilet to change their sanitary pad (or to clean up when they get a stain on their skirt) often end up skipping school, reveals All Women’s Action Society (Awam) deputy president Dr May Ng.

Awam deputy president Dr May Ng. Photo: The Star/Art ChenAwam deputy president Dr May Ng. Photo: The Star/Art Chen“If students don’t have access to clean, functioning toilets (ie toilets are dirty, dilapidated, dark/no lighting, can’t be locked, or locks get stuck, etc) in schools, it will affect their health because they’ve to ‘tahan’ (hold their urine in) until they go home. They can’t pee or change their sanitary pad,” she explains.

This eventually creates a gender imbalance: As only girls have periods, the boys will end up going to school regularly while girls skip school whenever they have their periods.

This is one of the issues that exacerbates the issue of period poverty, she says.

“In tabling the Budget 2024 last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim allocated funds to repair toilets in over 8,000 schools in Malaysia. This was a move in the right direction, even though some people questioned the decision.

“They did not understand nor realise the dire condition that the toilets in many schools were in, and the importance of clean and functioning toilets to the health of schoolchildren,” highlights Ng.

Addressing period poverty

“Haid, Jangan Hide” (Don’t hide when menstruating) is a programme that Awam has launched to address the issue of period poverty in Malaysia.

“Not many people are aware that there are communities where the women and girls can’t afford to buy sanitary pads.

“It’s expensive, and especially so, for those who come from poor families, or are day workers who earn just a basic income. As a result, some of these schoolgirls don’t go to school when they’re having their period,” reveals Ng.

Period poverty is defined as the lack of access to: safe and hygienic menstrual products during monthly periods, menstrual hygiene education, and basic sanitation services and facilities.

A participant in the Penang pilot programme of 'Haid Jangan Hide' reading AWAM's brochure on sexual harassment. Photo: AwamA participant in the Penang pilot programme of 'Haid Jangan Hide' reading AWAM's brochure on sexual harassment. Photo: Awam

According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), period poverty describes the “struggles many low-income women and girls face when they can’t afford menstrual products”.

It also refers to the “increased economic vulnerability of these women and girls due to the financial burden posed by expensive menstrual supplies, which aren’t limited to just menstrual pads and tampons, but also to other related items such as pain relief medication and underwear”.

However, period poverty doesn’t only affect women and girls in developing countries; it also affects women in wealthy, industrialised countries.

UNFPA reveals that encountering difficulties in affording menstrual products may result in girls and women staying home and not going to school and work, with lasting consequences on their education and economic opportunities.

Period poverty can also worsen existing vulnerabilities, pushing women and girls towards risky and illegal coping mechanisms such as stealing or other crimes.

Dismantling cultural stigma

This advocacy initiative by Awam is aimed at dismantling cultural and generational stigma surrounding menstruation in Malaysia, says its senior programme manager Lilian Kok.

Awam senior programme manager Lilian Kok. Photo: AwamAwam senior programme manager Lilian Kok. Photo: AwamWomen and girls face oppression and a lack of freedom and opportunities due to the gender roles that are expected of them once they start menstruating.

In some communities, once a girl starts menstruating, she is seen as being of marriageable age.

In other communities, a girl is isolated and not allowed to go out when having her period as she is deemed as “unclean”, she says.

The “Haid, Jangan Hide” campaign is a step towards understanding community-specific struggles.

One of the core issues to be addressed is misinformation or the lack of information on reproductive health which has resulted in menstruation being a taboo topic that cannot be spoken about, she adds.

Another issue faced by schoolgirls is period spot checks: the practice of, among other things, patting down students at the groin to check if they were menstruating.

Awam’s Save The Schools report (2021) reveals that 94.6% of all period spot check violations occur in primary and secondary schools in Malaysia.

In total, some 770 testimonies of 1,145 incidences of sexual harassment, period spot checks, bullying and other abuse in schools were analysed and compiled in the report which also illustrates the fears girls face when they’re being violated in their most vulnerable state.

To confront period poverty, Awam has a comprehensive action plan.

Participants holding up Awam's 'Haid Jangan Hide' free merchandise. Photo: AwamParticipants holding up Awam's 'Haid Jangan Hide' free merchandise. Photo: Awam

“We’re conducting workshops nationwide to provide information on menstrual health and stigmatisation. We also encourage communities to use artistic expression to raise issues and discuss stigmas they face with regards to menstruation. Selected artwork by participants will be featured in the organisation’s annual report,” she says.

“Additionally, there will be an online campaign to increase visibility and viral the issue across various demographics.

“The campaign also involves conducting surveys to gain insight into the distinct challenges experienced by people in each region of Malaysia,” she adds.

“The conversations about period stigma includes important topics such as consent and trauma.

“The dialogues have also extended to cover women’s health, including taboo issues such as breast cancer, endometriosis and gender discrimination in our healthcare system.”


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