What’s blood got to do with it?

Leading with menstruation to deliver the whole sexual and reproductive health package for girls in Latin America.

By Andrea Novella, Regional Manager, Social Media, PSI LAC, and Lorena Villeda, Regional Social Media Specialist, PSI LAC

Daniela didn’t understand what was happening to her body the first time she menstruated. Nobody had fully explained what would happen. She had only heard that her period was “dirty,” that on ¨those days, women act crazy¨ and that it was “like being sick.”

She remembered what her mother had once told her— that with the onset of menstruation she must be careful as “boys could be dangerous”–but Daniela never really understood how her periods related to boys. She was curious but struggled to find a trustworthy source of information about her menstrual health and hygiene without being shamed or judged.

Daniela is not alone. Girls across Latin America face similar challenges. The stigma and lack of information around menstrual health prevents them from having a holistic understanding of their sexual and reproductive health and taking charge of their health, their bodies, and their lives.

Girls face a poverty of choice and agency when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health, directly impacting their opportunities for development. Misinformation on the menstrual cycle (including the most fertile days) increases the risk of unplanned adolescent pregnancies, contributing to the high teen pregnancy rates in the Latin America region, where 1 in 4 pregnancies are among underage youth. (Source: 2017, Pan American Health Organization, United Nations Population Fund, and United Nations Children’s Fund)

Changes to menstruation are one of the most frequently cited concerns around using modern contraception. Using the digital tool Social Listening, a software designed to identify keywords and phrases across user content posted on online channels, PSI Latin America conducted an analysis of all public social media conversations around the topic of menstruation and found that one of the top words used in relation to the word menstruation is “contraception”.

BRIDGING THE GAP

When girls don’t understand the whole picture of their sexual and reproductive health, inclusive of their menstrual health, they can’t make the best decisions for themselves and their futures. That’s why PSI Latin America is leveraging technology to increase information and access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH), including menstrual health and hygiene, and contraception for youth. As part of the Youth 3.0 program, PSI Latin America is using youth-friendly brands, such as Úsala Bien (¨Use it Well ¨in Spanish) and Ubi Bot—a digital self-counseling tool powered by artificial intelligence—to provide young people with on demand SRH information through popular digital platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, to take charge of their health in a fun and engaging way. Not only do these digital platforms promote SRH, Úsala Bien and Ubi Bot help connect young people to peer outreach workers who provide online contraceptive counseling and referrals to youth-friendly healthcare service providers.

And menstruation is proving to be a critical way to open the conversation with young people to talk about their sexual and reproductive health.

From January through August of this year, 23 million young people in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic were exposed to PSI Latin America’s health messaging across over ten different online touchpoints, including the Ubi Bot page, which garnered 287.5K direct conversation messages across the region. (Sprout Social, results from Facebook and Instagram January through August 2020). The PSI Latin America team found that content around menstrual health garnered significantly more engagement on their digital platforms. Compared to the 3% standard engagement rate, informational posts about menstrual health had 20% engagement with audiences, increasing the pages’ reach in providing sexual and reproductive health messaging and connecting young people to providers for contraceptive counseling. (source: PSI Technical brief for the Integration of Menstrual Health in SRHR).

TAKING CHARGE OF HER HEALTH

Daniela feels fortunate. Scrolling through Instagram, she found an interesting post about menstruation and fertile days posted on the Ubi Bot feed. There, she discovered a safe space where she could turn for support along her sexual and reproductive health journey. Through videos and articles posted on Ubi Bot´s page, she began learning about her menstrual cycle and how it links to pregnancy, as well as different types of contraceptives. Eventually, after chatting with Ubi Bot on messenger, she was referred to a nearby healthcare provider using her GPS location, where she received a consultation and IUD insertion, an option that she never would have considered before talking to Ubi.

This past weekend we celebrated World Contraception Day, a day on which Daniela’s story highlights the need to continue supporting youth who too often have limited access to menstrual health education and contraception. However, with innovation and technology, we have seen how we can bridge that gap, by reducing stigma and providing access to the information and services for young people to live healthier lives and transform their future.

Banner image courtesy of Flickr/Lon&Queta.

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