By Salome Nthenya Nzuki

 

It's Time for Action: Menstrual Health Education is Necessary to Help End Menstruation Silence and Stigma.

In 2013, WASH United an NGO initiated May 28 as the day globally recognised as Menstrual Hygiene Day. Their goal is to ‘break the silence, raise awareness and change negative social norms surrounding menstrual health management around the world.’ The theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019 is ‘It’s time for action’ with a special focus on action in the critical area of menstrual health management education. Providing education on menstrual health equips girls and women with vital information on not just how to manage their menstruation, but teaching them that menstruation is normal and a sign that their bodies are healthy.

Menstrual health education also helps in breaking down the stigma, discrimination and negative social cultural practices associated with menstruation. For example, in some areas in Nepal, girls and women continue being excluded during menstruation and are forced to spend nights in cattle sheds or isolated ‘menstruation huts’ despite such practices being banned.

In February this year BBC News reported that a 21 year-old Nepali woman died while in isolation in a ‘menstrual hut.’  The hut was windowless and the girl allegedly lit a fire to keep herself warm but unfortunately died of suffocation. A number of women in Nepal die in ‘menstruation huts’ due to cold, snake bites and attacks from wild animals and human beings. In some communities menstruating girls and women are forbidden from entering religious places, preparing and cooking food, and touching babies.

Alice Wambui, from Nakuru County, Kenya understands firsthand how negative menstrual social practices can harm, ridicule and even shame young girls. Due to financial constraints, her parents could not afford to buy her sanitary towels. She had to use old rags, pieces of paper and mattresses to manage menstruation. This caused her a lot of discomfort, infections and ridicule from boys in her primary school. Alice regards the most stressful part of her life as the time she started menstruation. 

In addition to not having access to menstrual products, Alice also had no education on menstrual health. As a result, Alice says that she performed poorly in academics. It was therefore a challenge for her to transit into university education. Through well-wishers contribution towards school fees and hard work Alice has been able to complete her Undergraduate degree and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree. For her thesis she is researching the effects of inaccessibility of sanitary pads on girls’ academic performance.

Alice is the founder of an enterprise known as ‘Smile Star ‘D Days for Girls’ that is located in Njoro, Nakuru County of Kenya but runs programmes reaching girls in many parts of Kenya.Alice is currently helping school going girls in various parts of Kenya through teaching the Days for Girls menstrual health education and providing them with Days for Girls washable pads for them to manage their menstruation.  Alice employs local women to sew Days for Girls washable pads that will last a girl up to three years. Alice distributes and sells her Days for Girls washable pads and teaches Days for Girls menstrual health education to school girls so that they not only can manage their menstruation but also understand menstruation is natural and normal.

Since starting her Smile Star’D Days for Girls enterprise in October 2018, Alice has been able to reach over 1000 school girls in different rural schools in Kenya. Through the provision of washable menstrual pads and menstrual health education teachers and principals have reported to Alice that their school girls are better able to manage their menstruation and concentrate more on their studies. It was also reported that absenteeism has reduced and girls perform better academically.

A lot of effort needs to be put in imparting everyone in the society with accurate information on menstruation. This will end the stigma, silence and negative practices around menstruation. Girls and women will lead healthy, meaningful and fulfilling lives. On May 28, It’s Time for Action! Time to have a conversation with a friend, daughter, son, niece, nephew, mother or father about menstruation. Help break the silence by taking action.

Every girl and woman everywhere has a right to access menstrual hygiene education and products to better manage their periods in a dignified manner. Better menstrual health management equates to better access to education and job opportunities for girls and women, hence better life outcomes. 

(To learn more about Days for Girls, how they are turning periods into pathways, visit their website at www.daysforgirls.org)