Globally we see, more than ever, a new movement focusing on “breaking the silence” to put girls and women at the fore front of development. From #EndChildMarriages Campaign, thru #EducateGirls to #Carmma Campaign we’re talking…indeed we’re talking so much that even Barack Obama on his 2nd visit to Kenya said in his trademark sexy oratory skills “#Kenya will not succeed if it treats women & girls as 2nd class citizens”
But there is one cross-cutting field that shouldn’t just be seen as a by-the-way: – Menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Worldwide, approximately 50% of girls and women are of reproductive age. Most of these women and school girls will menstruate each month for between two and seven days, for at least thirty years of their life. We already know that the world is off schedule to fulfill one of the most modest commitments: to get every child in school by 2015. More than 57 million children continue to be denied the right to primary education, and many of them will probably never enter a classroom (UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2013). One of the statistically significant part of this disparity is attributed to a lack of separate WASH facilities at schools, especially for girls during menstruation age.
With nicknames for a menstrual period ranging from – Aunt Flo, On the Rag, I’m at a Red Light, Surfing the Crimson Tide, Checked into Red Roof Inn, Curse of Dracula, Leak Week, My Dot, Monthly Oil Change… mention them, it’s a hell of an embarrassment to note that 28% of girls in Uganda do not go to school when they have their period (20% of whole school year) meaning If we don’t address the issue of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), 1 in 10 girls in Africa will miss out on education(Nyaketcho et al 2014)! In July – August 2012, SNV and IRC carried out a pilot action research entitled “Study on menstrual management in Uganda”, funded by Austrian Aid. The study, conducted in selected schools in seven districts, found that on average, over 57% of schoolgirls aged 11-13 absent themselves from school due to menstrual-related challenges. The study found that around half of the girl pupils in the study report missing 1-3 days of primary school per month. This translates into a loss of 8 to 24 school days per year. This means per term a girl pupil may miss up to 8 days of study. On average, there are 220 learning days in a year and missing 24 days a year translates into 11% of the time a girl pupil will miss learning due to menstrual periods. And we’re boasting of the new #SDGs but they have no cat in hells chance of changing anything if we remain in our current chill-ax mode.
In our crazy world an 11 year old girl has a high chance of accessing a male condom than a menstrual pad! In humanitarian emergencies, it’s worse
In Uganda, many young girls are not just faced with the challenge of access to appropriate menstrual hygiene management methods, i.e. methods that are effective, comfortable, convenient, affordable and safe to use.(Good policy and practice in health education, UNESCO, 2014). But the patriarchal attitude fuelled by uninformed and cultural museum-bound half men that look at Menstruation as dirty, ungodly poses a physical, mental and social well being of both potentially inschool, and out of school girls and women. Thanks to them, Menstruation is supposed to be invisible and silent, and sometimes, menstruating women and girls are supposed to be invisible and silent, too. Millions of girls and women are subjected to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating. (Menstrupredia, 2015).
There’re have been some notable events in Uganda with Media, members of parliament and program implementers beginning to show some signs and symptoms of talking about it: (WoMeNa, 2015)
– Speaker of Parliament Hon Kadaga launched Menstrual Hygiene Charter on 2nd Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 2015)
– Ministry of Education and Sports Circular no.1/2015 re: MHM in schools (March 2015)
– NETWAS Uganda holds 1st National Conference on Menstrual Hygiene Management (August 2014)
– CSO advocacy walk to Parliament on the 1st Intl Menstrual Hygiene Day, submit position paper (July 2014)
– FAWEU workshops with MPs led to national tax waivers on sanitary pads (2006)
– Several actors working on MHM in Uganda: UNHCR, UNICEF, FAWEU, Makerere University (Makapads), numerous NGOs and social businesses (AFRIpads)
– WoMENA-aiming at conducting studies on the use of menstrual cups (plus MHM methods in general) and their impact on health and social factors in low income and rural settings, including in Uganda
We’ve existing free safe hell lotta #MenstrualHygiene packages like the menstrual cup which is reusable for up to 10 years! Reusable pads, made by local producers (e.g. AFRIpads), Reusable pads, made by the users themselves, Biodegradable (bamboo/banana fiber), locally produced pads (e.g. Makapads, SHE Go! Pads), Soft menstrual cups (e.g. Instead), Cervical caps and diaphragms, Menstrual sponges and Antimicrobial, leak-resistant panties (e.g. THINX)
We need to put aside our Political, Religious & Cultural PhD differences to promote – loudly and unashamedly – the role of good Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) as a trigger for better, stronger development of women and girls: personal, educational and professional. There is also clear evidence to show that ignoring good menstrual hygiene is damaging not just women and girls directly but also for schools, businesses and economies. Lest we forget, menstruation is a very natural process. However, in most parts of the world, including Uganda, it remains a taboo and is rarely talked about (HOUSE et al. 2012). If Girls and Women organized themselves, they could sue governments in courts of law because Stigma around menstruation and menstrual hygiene is a violation of several human rights, most importantly of the right to human dignity, but also the right to non‐discrimination, equality, bodily integrity, health, privacy and the right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment from abuse and violence. But what are we and our governments emphasizing?….free condoms for me, for you, for everyone everywhere! Why isn’t this the case for our girls and women with #MenstrualHygiene issues? Eish…I need a drink
Brian Kanaahe Mwebaze Bilal is a Lecturer #YouthResearcher #Gunner Certified Public Health Freak in #MenstrualHygiene #RoadSafety and blames Twitter for all his PhD woes. @BrianBilalK1