For NAIDOC Week, we’re shining the spotlight on the menstrual health of Indigenous women and girls, particularly in remote communities.
‘People aren’t going to the shop and buy it [period products], because they’re tiny places and people will know that you’ve bought it, because you’re menstruating … There’s sort of a bit of … stigmatising or feeling ashamed’
Quotes such as this from the report Menstrual Health and Hygiene Among Indigenous Australian Girls and Women: Barriers and Opportunities and the Dignity Everyday project highlight the need for Indigenous women and girl’s menstrual health experiences to be elevated in public discussion and policy creation as a means to begin addressing gender parity.
The detailed report highlights numerous barriers to health and wellbeing for remote communities from the lack of appropriate period management resources - products and water, to limited information about a woman’s monthly cycle. These barriers put females in a difficult position to appropriately manage their menstruation, and have been found to leave young girls completely unprepared for their first period, an experience which leads to a cycle of shame and lack of seeking advice.
In many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, menstruation is considered private ‘women’s business’ with secrecy creating challenges in how information is passed on5]’. This situation can negatively impact ‘girls’ self-esteem, sexual and reproductive health and school attendance, all of which may affect health outcomes over a women’s life.’.
‘Mothers and grandmothers have said that girls are missing school when they have their periods … because they don't want to change [pads] at school … [at schools] often there's no soap, … there's often no rubbish bins or there's one rubbish bin outside the toilet which is really embarrassing to use.’
But a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer to addressing gender inequality, especially in Indigenous communities, where challenges need to be approached sensitively and in a culturally appropriate manner. Interventions need to be developed in partnership with local communities for long term success.
"There’s a lot of shame around it … traditional forms of learning [aren’t] necessarily functioning within families for everything … Traditionally, it’s a grandmother’s role, …but a lot of grandmothers experienced mission times where there was very strong puritan ... values around your body, which meant you don’t talk about it"
Minnie King, co-author, Umaii woman and business woman has been involved in researching and trialling the pilot education program Dignity Everyday in a Far North Queensland school for several years, noting that for Indigenous women living in remote communities there is additional complexity in accessing health care and information.
The project has installed free sanitary pad vending machines in boarding colleges for Indigenous students with donations from Share the Dignity, interviewed students and created a schools-based education program.
Programs that take time to respectfully listen and partner with Indigenous communities will be key in girls and boys being able to make better health choices around menstruation and puberty, and their general wellbeing. These are ‘important steps toward improving the health of all communities by supporting the next generation of female leaders’.
In 2021 Modibodi with NATSIWA (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance) provided scholarships to 10 tertiary students furthering their studies and will donate 1000 period-proof underpants to the Western Cape York communities of Napranum, Mapoon and Aurukun as well as boarding school students in Weipa.
Modibodi’s Give a Pair program helps us donate product and support programs in Indigenous communities. We’re donating $2 million worth of underwear in 2021 alone – that’s 100,000 pairs to women and girls in need.
 Emily Krusz, Nina Hall, Dani J. Barrington, Sandra Creamer, Wendy Anders, Minnie King, Helen Martin, and Julie Hennegan, Menstrual health and hygiene among Indigenous Australian girls and women: barriers and opportunities, BMC Womens Health, v.19, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6882156/