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TABOO SUBJECT

There’s no shame in menstruation

It is every individual’s role to help fight stigma, poverty associated with its management.

In Summary

• There has been growing concern to address and demystify menstrual-related myths, taboos and shame.

• Both government and private sector interventions are critical in positively impacting menstrual health management.

Tampons and pads.
Tampons and pads.
Image: COURTESY

The conversation on menstrual health is still considered a taboo in the conservative Africa space. For a long time, the discourse has been done in undertones, to the detriment of many girls and women.

The world celebrated Menstrual Health Hygiene Day on May 28. The situation in most parts of Africa and closer home in Kenya, however, still tells a sad narrative of women and girls living in seclusion and missing school because of menstruation.

Access to resources and lack of priority to effectively manage menstrual health in safe hygienic ways have further conspired to create significant barriers to high-quality menstrual hygiene management. The ripple effect of this has been greatly felt by women and girls in low-income areas.

 
 

Despite a lot of interventions and policies being made to mitigate the situation, the biggest challenge still remains normalising the narrative on menstruation.

The Menstrual Hygiene Management Day, therefore, provides a platform to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management and initiate bold conversations about menstrual health to avert stigma and discrimination associated with menstruation.

 

Different discussions around menstrual health management have made global headlines. There has been growing concern from governments, NGOs and other institutions to address and demystify menstrual related myths, taboos and shame that have affected many girls and women in low- and middle-income countries.

A study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation estimated that 65 per cent of women and girls in Kenya are unable to afford sanitary pads. The government is working towards ensuring that this scourge is arrested.

There is now growing national attention to MHM, with the National Sanitary Towels Programme for schoolgirls and the development of national MHM guidelines to streamline operations.

Started in 2006, the programme has so far distributed over 9.5 million pads to more than 120,000 girls. In 2018, more than 11,500 girls were impacted by the programme countrywide. This saw a 95 per cent drop in underage pregnancies and 50 per cent improved academic performance amongst the beneficiaries.

To further the government’s agenda on this, in 2017, the Basic Education Act was amended, thus placing the responsibility of providing free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl registered and enrolled in a public education institution and has reached puberty on the government. This was aimed at reducing absenteeism for girls in schools during their periods.

In 2016 a report by Unesco estimated that one in 10 girls in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa is absent from school during their menstrual cycle.

 

The private sector is effectively initiating programmes to help bridge this gap and to normalise the conversation around this topic. A good example is the Always Keeping Girls in School programme.

The programme has empowered girls through essential puberty education, motivation, access to educational resources and donations of a year supply of Always sanitary pads. This ensures that girls don’t have to miss school and they can be confident about themselves and their futures.

Started in 2006, the programme has so far distributed over 9.5 million pads to more than 120,000 girls. In 2018, more than 11,500 girls were impacted by the programme countrywide. This saw a 95 per cent drop in underage pregnancies and 50 per cent improved academic performance amongst the beneficiaries.

 

The programme has now integrated boys in the education sessions. This allows them to become part of the change in normalising the conversation. The expected outcome is for men to begin talking about menstruation more freely and be supportive of the MHM needs of women and girls within households, communities, and schools.

 

The Kaka Empire Foundation has also taken up the challenge of providing primary school girls in marginalised areas with sanitary products and educating them on menstrual hygiene through the #BankOnMe initiative.

These, amongst other programmes run by various organisations and individuals, have helped reduce cases of early marriages in some communities, sex in exchange for sanitary pads, poor academic performance of girls and school dropouts hence protecting girls from different societal pressures. 

Both the government and private sector interventions are critical in positively impacting menstrual health management. They further provide a perfect ground for more public-private partnerships that will aid assuage the situation.

This, therefore, calls on every stakeholder to come on board and work towards ensuring that we engage in thought-provoking dialogues to reduce the stigma and suffering that come with menstruation.

It is every individual’s role to help fight stigma and poverty associated with MHM. One can support organisations already doing this work or take up the challenge to help disadvantaged girls by supporting them directly.

Founder, Bethel Network