• There has been quite an information gap on menstrual hygiene management.
• It’s prudent for the girls to access safe and clean toilets at school with safe spaces for privacy concerns/
Globally, approximately 52 per cent of the female population is of reproductive age.
This means that most of these women and girls will menstruate each month for between two and seven days.
Unicef says one in 10 girls in Africa misses school because of their periods. Subsequently, research reports that 65 per cent of Kenyan women and girls are unable to afford sanitary towels. Just 32 per cent of schools in rural areas have a private place for girls to change their menstrual products.
As the world marks Menstrual Hygiene Management Day today — an annual advocacy platform that brings together voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies and other interested partners on matters menstruation —critical gaps still remain a challenge, especially in rural areas.
This year campaign has been themed 'Time for Actions, No more Limits.'
In some communities, girls are stigmatised and discriminated against during their periods. Some are not allowed to touch water sources, cook for their families and even tend plants or pass through planted fields.
These cultural barriers, amongst others surrounding menstruation, are associated with traditional taboos relating to uncleanness, witchcraft and local superstitions. These lead to negative practices and attitudes against a biological process that should be considered as a norm. Provision of psychosocial support for girls would be paramount.
What is more, there has been quite an information gap on menstrual hygiene management, especially on inapt hygiene practices such as changing of the towels infrequently, unsafe disposal of used sanitary towels and lack of proper sanitation, which if not handled may increase susceptibility to infections.
The situation is even worse for schoolgoing girls due to the insufficient infrastructure at school. The government through the ministry of Gender has been distributing sanitary towels to a good number of schools but the reach has been limited. It is necessary to consider menstrual hygiene management issues the school curriculum and close the existing gaps.
It’s prudent for the girls to access safe and clean toilets at school with the presence of safe, private spaces where girls can comfortably change their menstrual products as often as necessary. When schools have the right facilities, they can help girls manage their menstruation with confidence and dignity, and contribute to improved academic performance amongst the girls, gender equality and better health outcomes.
Finally, organisations can address the culture of silence and spark conversations around menstruation by involving the boys in their programmes. Menstruation matters to men and boys too.
Dynamic efforts by human rights agencies and associations are advancing mindfulness of menstrual hygiene through structured awareness creation that brings on board both genders.
For instance, Dandelion Africa, a local NGO based in Nakuru county, has been running mentorship programmes on menstrual hygiene management in schools by using boys as agents of change. Such approaches, if extended to other areas, might change the narrative of menstrual hygiene.
Marginalised women and girls, notably those living with disability and school dropouts, face multiple layers of exclusion and are often unable to access hygienic sanitary materials. There is growing national attention to MHM but more needs to be done. Particularly, policymakers need to consider such needs when designing support for menstrual hygiene management.
We also need more research to comprehend the effects of menstrual hygiene management programmes on life outcomes.
Nderitu is a monitoring and evaluation officer, Dandelion Africa