Puberty is a terrifying time for boys and girls everywhere. This is understandable because it's a time of uncertain change -- physically and emotionally. But change is good. And puberty isn't just any change, it's a transformation into adulthood -- i.e., who you're going to be for the rest of your life.
While intensely personal, this transformation does not happen alone. It's an incredibly social experience in which one's family, friends and culture serves as guide and judge. For boys, this means chuckles at the sound of their cracking voice and some snickering at the sprouting of a few wayward whiskers. For girls, however, the oncoming of puberty, specifically, the onset of her first menstrual cycle, can mean a lifetime of periodic separation, abandonment, shame and unsanitary practices.
Take the practice of chupadi in Nepal. Upon having her first period, a girl is locked in her room for 12 days; only female members of the family are allowed to visit her. From then on, the girl is "only" locked in her room for four days once a month.
During chupadi, she is not allowed to touch objects in the house that other people might use (especially anything in the kitchen), she is not allowed to go to school, interact with any males, or visit temples. She is told that she is in her most impure form.
In the more rural and conservative areas of Nepal, it can be even worse. During her period, the girl is isolated in outdoor shelters, away from the house like an animal. She isn't allowed to enter her own home until her cycle has completed. Facing the absence of proper hygiene, proper food and lack of suitable blankets and bedding for warmth, some young women literally don't survive puberty.
Physical hardships aside, the sheer emotional trauma young women face during chupadi can last a lifetime. As a gender, it's difficult to stand up for equal rights when you've been isolated and abandoned from the first day you were a woman.
But the chupadi is only one example from one country. Similar punishments and ignorance is practiced across the globe.
As you can see in this infographic, perpetuating dangerous and poorly-informed taboos about menstruation has wide-ranging consequences, affecting everything from personal health, global education, economies, the environment and basic human rights.
What if, we banned together in order to change together? What if, today can be the time we all grow up?
There are a number of ways to take action now. WASH United is launching the first Menstrual Hygiene Day 28 May, 2014. What if you joined the more than 130 global sponsors from all across the Earth who are working together to break the bloody silence and educate about why #MenstruationMatters?
You can learn more about the work WASH United is doing in their feature, "Screw the Bloody Taboo" on Richard Branson's Virgin Unite.
What if, together, we can see to it puberty is a wonderful passage into all of the possibilities of adulthood, instead of a life sentence into insecurity, shame and isolation for young women?