The Great Aunt: WSSCC and SCA help Chinese girls to break menstrual taboos

Date: 14th February 2015

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In a safe and supportive environment, thirty girls from Haikou, China, sat down on February 5 to talk with each other and learn from experts about an important but little discussed topic that will impact their lives for the next 40 years: menstruation.

The girls, aged 10 to 12, participated in a menstrual hygiene management (MHM) training session organized by SCA and WSSCC through their public-private partnership on the issue. The training session was supported by the General Office of Women and Children Affairs of Hainan Provincial Government, as well as Vinda International, one of China’s largest tissue companies. The training took place at the Hainan Provincial Population and Family Public Service Center.

SCA and WSSCC have entered into their collaboration aiming at breaking the stigma and silence that surrounds menstruation. At any given moment, 800 million women around the world are menstruating, and in many countries, millions of them are left to manage their periods with unhygienic solutions such as cloth, paper or clay, and without access to private toilets, water or soap. Sanitary products like pads are unaffordable or unavailable, and urinary or reproductive tract infections are common. As a result, girls miss valuable days in school, and women are unable to work, stifling productivity and advancement. In China alone, estimates are that there are some 350 to 400 million women of menstruating age.

In the MHM session, local women trained by WSSCC taught the girls about their bodies, the importance of good hygiene during menstruation and to feel pride in what happens naturally every month. The local women were given a full day of pre-training on Feb. 4 , which will enable them to continue to spread the knowledge and achieve sustainable change.

“The health and well-being of a nation is very much connected to the health and well-being of its women and girls,” said Chen Jinling, Deputy Director of the General Office of Women and Children Affairs of Hainan Provincial Government. “We are happy to support this workshop, which has done much to raise awareness of menstrual hygiene management and has provided nearly 30 girls, and their friends, with very important information for their own futures.”


With the group of women trainers – who included doctors, teachers and community volunteer organizers – and later with the students, the session provided an opportunity to discuss in clear terms what usually is done euphemistically. It was said how the monthly period is often explained away as “the Great Aunt”, or “the thing”, or “my routine holiday”, or “the typhoon”.  Some cultural practices and beliefs in China linked to menstruation include in many places, including Hainan, girls having their period cannot go with their families to worship their ancestors. Or, there are beliefs that they should not go swimming, or eat chocolate (because Chinese traditional medicine suggests that some foods help or hinder the circulatory system, and that sweet foods will make you bleed more).

“Breaking the silence [around menstruation] requires knowledge and leads to real change,” said Archana Patkar, Programme Manager, WSSCC. “Today’s training went very well and it shows that the WSSCC/SCA partnership will leave a positive and lasting imprint for girls and young women in Haikou while also raising awareness of menstrual hygiene issues globally. We’re grateful to the Hainan Provincial Government for welcoming and supporting us in this work.”

Kersti Strandqvist, SCA’s SVP Sustainability described the partnership as a valuable tool to make a difference. “We want to move from well-meaning words to real action. To meet the young girls today is also a means for us to adjust our products and trainings to their needs and strengthen them in their role as women. For us at SCA it is inspiring and motivating when we see how we make a difference in these girls’ lives!”

WSSCC has a multi-faceted approach to menstrual hygiene management, and other equity issues. Partnerships exist with SCA, UN Women and others, and WSSCC is carrying out important research in India linked to the SHARE Research Consortium.


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