As we get closer to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s May 19 wedding, it’s to be expected that stories about Markle’s philanthropy work and acting career will dominate the news in the weeks ahead. We decided to join the fun with a look back at one of the most significant foreign trips Markle has taken in recent years — her January 2017 trip to India.
Throughout her time in the public eye, Markle has garnered attention for her ability to start conversations on women’s health issues and her India trip was no exception. Her 2017 trip as the global ambassador for the charity World Vision took her to Mumbai and Delhi, where she met with women and girls living in slum communities to talk about menstrual health issues and how public initiatives can transform lives.
“The stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to proper sanitation directly inhibit young women from pursuing an education,” wrote Markle afterwards in a much-lauded essay in Time magazine. “During my time in the field, many girls shared that they feel embarrassed to go to school during their periods, ill-equipped with rags instead of pads, unable to participate in sports, and without bathrooms available to care for themselves, they often opt to drop out of school entirely.”
By focusing her piece on the societal impact of menstrual stigma, Markle drew a direct line between the costs of shaming girls and their ability to grow up into healthy and educated adults. “with minimal dialogue about menstrual health hygiene either at school or home due to the taboo nature of the subject, many girls believe their bodies are purging evil spirits, or that they are injured once a month,” Markle noted. “This is a shame-filled reality they quietly endure. All of these factors perpetuate the cycle of poverty and stunt a young girl’s dream for a more prolific future.”
As the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation notes, the vast majority of India’s 355 million do not have the resources or supplies to have “a comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual hygiene management.” A major impediment many Indian women face is lack of access to both pads and clean bathrooms. Markle’s essay both addressed these facts and eloquently stated why the stakes are so high.
“Beyond India, in communities all over the globe, young girls’ potential is being squandered because we are too shy to talk about the most natural thing in the world,” noted Markle. “To that I say: we need to push the conversation, mobilize policy-making surrounding menstrual health initiatives, support organizations who foster girls’ education from the ground up, and within our own homes, we need to rise above our puritanical bashfulness when it comes to talking about menstruation.”
While we do not yet know what sort of advocacy work Markle will take on after she officially joins the Royal Family later this month, the quote above gives us a good deal of hope. It would be wonderful to see one of the world’s most famous women continue to shine a light on menstrual health stigma (and hopefully help end it once and for all.)