How do misogynistic communities affect adolescent girls going through puberty? In many countries, pubescent girls do not know enough about their reproductive health. The lack of sex education leads to a cultural taboo surrounding the topic of women’s health. This leads to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, illegal abortions, and a higher mortality rate.

     As girls worldwide are transitioning into womanhood, the onset of menstruation marks a turning point in their lives. Although this is an experience shared by women, it is still stigmatized. Unfortunately, many traditional cultures refuse to discuss menstruation, leading to a lack of sufficient knowledge regarding it. Cultures around the world have also developed harmful ideas surrounding menstruation. For example, many communities, especially ones with strict religions such as those in India or the Middle East, associate menstruation with impurities and restrictions. Due to this stigma surrounding personal hygiene and reproductive health, women all around the world, especially in developing countries, know little about reproductive health and their bodies.

     The major barriers to discussing sexual health are the sociocultural norms that prohibit and condemn any dialogue regarding it. This causes a culture of silence and shame to form, which only perpetuates the patriarchal dominance in society. There are over 3000 research cases in India addressing how sex is viewed as culturally inappropriate and disrespectful; this unfortunately leads to inadequate knowledge about pregnancy. For example, a research report conducted in Mumbai analyzed how inadequate knowledge affects the generations to come. The report found that many girls received all the information regarding their hygiene from either their mother, other female relatives, or school teachers, which is good, but there is an offset of the relay of information. The information that is passed on through the generations is usually medically inaccurate and supports historically stereotypical comments. The survey shows that many girls were unaware of menstruation and later were not given sufficient information. Studies conducted in other parts of Asia reveal similar patterns in young women’s sex education throughout the continent.

     Due to this taboo, many women do not know how to fight against sexual harassment and rape, which thus causes numerous unplanned pregnancies. As a result of the cultural barriers, many women feel unable to freely talk to their partners or other people about sexual consent and the purpose of sex. Their lack of education causes them to not have enough information regarding sexual intercourse and the contraceptives that are used.  In a study in Delhi, India, many women reported to have been quite frightened on their wedding night and did not know what to expect. The statistics also show that many women had misconceptions regarding contraception, which in turn caused many unplanned pregnancies. For all survey participants, the discussion regarding sex and other sexual rights is considered disrespectful and culturally inappropriate. Buying contraceptives or other needs for a woman, such as sanitary napkins, tampons, etc., is considered as jeopardizing the woman’s and the family’s honor.

     Each year approximately 125 million women get pregnant, but worldwide about 40% of all pregnancies are unplanned, which means that there are 85 million unplanned pregnancies. Insufficient knowledge of contraception and deficient resources in developing countries cause the number of unplanned pregnancies to rise, putting the health of hundreds of women at risk. Since the risk of unplanned pregnancies is higher than planned ones, the number of maternal deaths also increases. Among the millions of pregnancies that are terminated each year, 60% are carried out under unsafe conditions. Each year, thousands of women in developing regions die or are injured due to unsafe, illicit abortions. Several of the abortions that are conducted in these low-income countries are considered to be unsafe.  Furthermore, out of the 25 million unsafe abortions performed every year, the majority are illegal due to strict abortion laws in many countries. The risk of dying from abortion drastically increases, which causes over 68,000 women a year to die. When they are illegal, the citizens turn to unhygienic methods of abortion. The effects of unintended pregnancies are serious and need to be addressed.

     As a result of cultural taboos, many women worldwide, especially in developing countries, do not have access to information about their sexual health and personal hygiene.  To provide a safe environment for women, schools in third-world countries must place more emphasis on sexual health education. As a part of the school curriculum, it should be mandatory for teachers to educate girls on personal hygiene, puberty, pregnancies, and abortions. The shame and silence within the community already harm women and limit them from learning more about themselves, therefore providing better education and understanding of menstruation is key to improving health outcomes for women. These taboos exist globally and are especially prominent and relevant in developing countries. A 2014 study by Femme International in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum found that over 75% of girls had little idea what menstruation was before they got their first period, causing them to feel scared, confused, and embarrassed.

     Whether it be mothers not telling their girls about the birds and bees of life, or girls feeling uncomfortable having the “talk”, these cultural taboos cause them to have a lack of knowledge, leading to an increased amount of unplanned pregnancies and unsafe, illegal abortions. Believing that everything is linked to education, schools around the world need to have a place where they can educate girls on puberty and on how menstruation is a natural process. Nations also need to raise awareness about female health issues by supporting NGOs and other organizations, such as Girl Up and WHO, whose main purpose is to help out these nations by providing funds to educate females. This would result in the next generation of females having the knowledge they need to be safe when they are ready to have sex and for starting a family. By teaching sexual health to girls at a young age, we take a step forward in ensuring their safety in the future and ultimately, equality between men and women.