The challenge of talking about menstruation without taboos in Bolivia
By Yolanda Salazar
La Paz, Mar 20 (EFE).- Project Yawar, meaning “blood” in Aymara, seeks to eliminate lack of knowledge, inequality and the taboo on menstruation in Bolivia with workshops for women with different physical realities and social backgrounds to help “achieve menstrual dignity.”
“I know women who at age 27 or 30 don’t know what the menstrual cycle is,” paraplegic Bolivian citizen Felisa Ali told EFE, sitting in her wheelchair at a workshop where she could discuss and learn about a woman’s monthly cycle for the first time ever.
She said that before she thought menstruation was something “dirty,” and it’s a situation where people sometimes forget that there are also disabled women for whom it is difficult to deal with their monthly cycle for assorted reasons.
The problem is not only the lack of access to public restrooms with ramps in cities like La Paz, but also the poor condition in which they are kept and the economic cost of buying the supplies that women need.
“We’re not using feminine napkins, many are using diapers and the money we need each month to get through menstruation is more than a disabled person has,” she said.
Added to this situation is the stigma of talking about this natural bodily function, and overcoming it is a challenge in Bolivia.
Yawar was started two years ago as a “self-managed” program after “inequalities” were noted in access to products that affect “the exercise of women’s rights” and the scanty information about what happens to a woman’s body during the menstrual cycle, Lili Oropeza, the project’s cofounder and coordinator, told EFE.
“Our aim is to achieve menstrual dignity,” she said.
To meet that challenge, the members of the project are holding assorted workshops to “provide information” to all the women, teens and girls they can whether in rural or urban areas, disabled people or those who are incarcerated, in several Bolivian cities.
In addition, they want to contribute to “destigmatizing menstruation” and helping set aside ideas linked to the “sorrow and the shame” that remain prevalent among the public at large about this natural process.
“We think of it as if it were something private when in reality it’s a matter that should be dealt with in public policy,” Oropeza said.
The women participating in the workshops are at first a little shy and prefer to listen rather than talk, but after a while they start to ask questions and share their experiences.
Dayana Duran told EFE that at age 26 she “had learned many things” at the workshops about her body that they never taught her at school and she hadn’t ever felt the “freedom” to ask other people for fear that they would judge her or make fun of her.
“They cleared up several doubts and now they’re telling us not to be afraid, that menstruation is part of our cycle, it’s natural, it’s not bad. On the contrary, it’s better, since we can explore so many things starting with our menstrual cycle,” she emphasized.
Mariana Soriano, the sex education instructor for the project, told EFE that it’s important to understand “that menstruation has an impact on half the population” and that it has an economic, social and political cost and must be understood as a “comprehensive health” matter, since it’s a process that women experience for at least 40 years of their lives.
“They’ve linked our cycle with knowledge of our body. That power that we women have has been forgotten, it’s been taken from our hands and now we’re reclaiming it,” she said.
The Plan Internacional organization held a virtual survey in December 2022, interviewing 450 girls, women and men in Bolivia about menstruation, and it revealed that 90 percent of all girls don’t know about it or have no information about it, Cecilia Gamboa, the organizations gender specialist, told EFE.
The survey also found that 35 percent of girls and teens feel that it’s a taboo subject that isn’t discussed in the family and 60 percent of girls feel uncomfortable when they’re menstruating.
Another significant finding is that 70 percent of girls prefer not to go to school when they’re menstruating because they don’t have access to sanitary supplies and 30 percent of girls feel “shame” when they have their periods.