In July 2022, Mungabay, an American non-profit environmental science news platform, published an article about the rapid rise in sea levels that is bringing salt water into the country. Salt water is also pushed into freshwater springs in the Satkhira villages near the Sundarbans and the Bay of Bengal. This significantly reduces access to fresh water in these areas. One of the dire consequences for women and girls in this area is that they have only salt water to clean the rags they use during their menstrual period.
Rising sea levels and getting clean water
Bangladesh is a low delta crisscrossed by rivers. It is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change and most vulnerable to rising global sea levels. Every year Bangladesh experiences a sea level rise of 7 or 8 mm. This puts millions of people at risk of forced displacement due to floods. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that if global warming continues at its current rate, about 17% of Bangladesh’s population will have to relocate in the next 10 years.
Environmental journalist Rafik Munto highlights the danger awaiting Bangladesh as follows:
Bangladesh is one of the ten countries in the world at risk of rising sea levels. The coasts of Bangladesh are in great danger. pic.twitter.com/yWcqn9rv0h
– Rafik Montu (@ri_montu) October 13, 2021
Salinity due to sea level rise and irresponsible shrimp farming has had a serious negative impact on the fresh waters of the southwestern coastal region of Bangladesh. Women and girls in this area struggle to find clean drinking water without even mentioning water for their menstrual cycle.
Social stigma surrounding menstruation in Bangladesh
The World Bank projects that 500 million women and girls suffer from menstrual poverty: they cannot buy hygiene products during their menstrual period. This poverty not only jeopardizes the reproductive health of girls and women, but also their education and livelihoods.
There is no reliable data on sales of commercial sanitary pads in Bangladesh. Although consumption is high among working women in the capital, more than 80 percent of women in some rural areas use patches instead of sanitary pads – an old-fashioned habit. Commercial sanitary pads are increasingly available in rural areas, but the majority of women cannot afford them. A 2018 study titled “The Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources and Human Health” found that women and girls in the southern coastal regions of Bangladesh wash their monthly rags in salt water before reusing them.
There is a social stigma surrounding menstruation in Bangladesh. There is also a lack of information among girls about hygiene during menstruation. Many consider it a disease and menstruation in secret. Shame on women for washing their monthly rags in front of men is too great.
Your first period in Bangladesh: The lives of ‘many girls’ are ruined by insecurity Menstruation practices’. Guest blog by public health activist Sumit Panik #MHDay2020 #ItsTimeForAction # periods #menstrual https://t.co/aKlSo6iaXl pic.twitter.com/FoA6W3BAfz
– a period! (PeriodMagazine) May 27, 2020
The Mongabay study indicates that a number of girls take the pill to prevent menstruation. Then they no longer had to wash old rags in dirty salt water. They have seen their elderly relatives suffer from skin and genital infections due to a lack of clean water. Taking the birth control pill can have long-term health consequences, especially an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer.
The National Baseline Survey on Hygiene in Bangladesh (2014) indicates that 40 per cent of female students miss school about 3 days per month due to menstruation. It is not easy to get sanitary products in schools or public places because women are learning to hide their periods. A local sanitary napkin company in Satkhira has launched a collective CSR campaign. This consists of installing clean water tanks for women and girls as well as providing information about menstrual hygiene.
The international charity United Purpose tweeted about a local initiative to produce affordable sanitary pads:
group of women in #Bangladesh We set up Shopno Mini Center to sell clothes and health products in Cox’s Bazar.
United_Purpose September 10, 2021
Many in the conservative Bangladeshi society do not want to discuss safe lifestyles for menstrual hygiene. In 2015, the Ministry of Education stated that every school in Bangladesh should have at least one toilet for every 50 students. This goal has not yet been achieved. All these hurdles must first be overcome in Bangladesh before monthly hygiene is announced to all. However, climate change and sea level rise are external threats that Bangladesh as a country alone cannot find a solution to.