Vaginal bleeding taboo in poor countries puts lives at risk

LONDON: Taboos around vaginal bleeding in developing countries are putting the lives of women and girls at risk, and the lack of sanitation is making it worse, a report has found.

Menstruation is still taboo in many countries around the world, where it's often considered embarrassing or shameful.

In parts of Nepal, women practice "chaupadi", a tradition which cuts them off from the rest of society when they are menstruating. The custom obliges women to sleep in sheds or outbuildings while they have their period.

In India, menstruation is rarely discussed openly and this can leave girls and women ignorant about the issue and subject to social exclusion due to age-old social beliefs.

But there are other reasons why women experience vaginal bleeding, for example due to post-partum haemorrhages, miscarriages, endometriosis or cervical cancer, according to a report published in the BMJ British Medical Journal on Monday.

"Throughout the life course, girls and women experience numerous episodes of vaginal bleeding, many of which remain hidden due to misinformation, fear, embarrassment, shame and taboo," the report said.

Researchers said fostering open discussions would help women and girls differentiate between normal bleeding, like menstruation, and abnormal bleeding, which could be caused by sexually transmitted diseases or cancers.

"A first step is breaking the silence around the topic of vaginal bleeding, from the global to the local level, so that girls and women are able to seek out the healthcare and management required with confidence and support," the report said.

Societal taboos as well as the lack of clean water, soap and sanitary products, mean that many women and girls are unable to manage their vaginal bleeding in sanitary conditions.

On any given day more than 800 million women between 15 and 49 have their period. However, globally 1.25 billion women do not have access to a toilet during menstruation, according to the charity WaterAid.

The United Nations estimates that due to a lack of facilities, one in 10 girls in Africa will miss school during their period and will eventually drop out of school as a result.