(Photo: Girl Up Uganda participant making her first reusable sanitary pad during a puberty and menstruation training session)
The subject for this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day was ‘menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere’, which highlights the inclusive and comprehensive methodology that is essential to address global menstruation challenges and scale up innovative solutions. Menstruation is not only a girl and women’s issue. Menstruation matters to young boys and men; it matters in every aspect of life; it matters to equality; and it is an issue of consideration for all. As we wrote in our recent post on notable quotes from the Women Deliver Conference, just as the SDGs apply to developed and underdeveloped countries equally, so does good menstrual health management (MHM) matter to all girls and women globally.
We keep seeing the menstruation movement take different forms the world over, revealing insights into the issue and energizing activity at each level. This has included endeavors to absolve taxes imposed on pads and tampons, to people challenging against the media and various institutions which seem to cast a negative shadow on the natural process. For those of us who have access to disposal bins, sanitary products, phone apps to track our cycles, painkillers, clean water, and other things that help manage our feminine cycle, it is time to reflect on and be appreciative of those benefits, and consider what needs to be done for those without this access.
Menstruation is one of the most normal biological processes as well as a key sign of reproductive health. Yet, in many cultures today, it is still greatly stigmatized and treated as something shameful or dirty. May 28th marked Menstrual Hygiene Day, a chance to point out the necessities and difficulties girls and women face around “that time of the month”. The continued silence around menstruation, combined with limited access to accurate information at home and in schools results in many girls having next to no information or education about what is going on to their bodies when they bleed, and how to manage it. This is often accompanied by a lack of sanitary products, services, and facilities to adequately manage the monthly occurrence. Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) is committed to bridging the knowledge and skills gap in managing menstruation. At a larger level, more NGOs and governments must allocate resources into tending to the issue, especially as it relates to accomplishing the worldwide improvement objectives as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Menstrual Hygiene and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
SDG 4: Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Girls cannot access quality education and lifelong learning opportunities if they stay home a week out of every month. Girls face a myriad of challenges around their menstrual hygiene, which has huge ramifications for their access to education. A lack of access to affordable menstrual products, accurate menstrual information, and infrastructure from a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) standpoint leads to low attendance and high dropout rates among adolescent girls. UNESCO found that one in 10 girls misses school during her monthly cycle. In order to respond to the link between education and menstrual hygiene, educational institutions alongside organizations like GUIU have the opportunity and the obligation to ensure that girls are safely accommodated in schools with menstrual products, puberty and menstruation education, and gender-friendly toilets.
SDG 5: Gender Equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Menstrual hygiene no doubt has a role to play in achieving gender equality. How can women and girls access equal opportunities and become empowered when they still lack the resources to adequately respond to their monthly periods? Once girls and women have the resources and knowledge to manage their menstrual health and hygiene, they are better placed to invest in themselves, families and communities. No longer will menstruation be something that a girl is scared of, or misunderstand due to continuing myths, instead it will become something that she will be proud of as she enters womanhood with renewed confidence.
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation - Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. Clean water and sanitation are essential for general health and hygiene, especially for menstrual hygiene. Without access to clean and safe toilets, water, soap and disposal services in schools and homes, girls are unable to manage their menstruation in a hygienic way. Therefore, the international WASH community has the responsibility and duty to invest in good menstrual hygiene management so that all women and girls can manage their menstruation hygienically, safely, in privacy and with dignity.
These three SDGs are closely interlinked by the enormous requirement for proper menstrual hygiene products, information and infrastructure. As you can see in the infographic from SIMAVI, PATH and WASH United, menstruation also matters to SDG3- ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; SDG8- Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; and SDG12- Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
As we move into the fourth Industrial Revolution, it is humiliating this menstrual hygiene is still an issue for millions of women and girls around the world. It also prompts the question: “What it would be like if men and boys had to deal with menstruation each month. Would menstruation be less stigmatized, less taboo, and with many more simple and accessible menstrual products and services?”
Why does #menstruationmatter to Girl Up Initiative Uganda?
When we start our after-school Adolescent Girls Trainings, we ask our girls what they want to learn during our year-long program. The number one response we receive is: “I want to learn about puberty and menstruation!” It is clear from these responses and the girls attention during our menstruation and puberty education trainings that girls are eager to gain correct information on what happens to their bodies during menstruation and puberty. There is a plethora of misinformation, myths and taboos surrounding menstruation in the communities where we work in Uganda. For instance, some of the questions girls ask us during this training include:
“I want to know the reason as to why it is only girls who menstruate.”
“I want to know where the blood we bleed comes from.”
“Do pregnant women menstruate?”
“Why do I feel pain when I am menstruating?”
“Is it ok for a girl to use toilet tissue while menstruating?”
Our trained SRHR nurse leads these sessions for our girls to ensure that they are equipped with the proper menstrual health education that they can then use to teach their friends and sisters.
In addition, given girls’ and women’s limited access to affordable and accessible menstrual hygiene products, GUIU has developed specialized projects to equip our women and girls with the knowledge and hands-on skills to produce their own sanitary pads. In addition, GUIU recently received a donation of AFRIpads Menstrual Kits from our partner, HUGs, which we will distribute to the girls in our 2016 program during their graduation ceremony.
(Photo: GUIU Program Assistant Gloria Komukama with the generous donation of AFRIpad Menstrual kits from HUGs)
GUIU would like to do expand our work in menstrual health not only in terms of supplying girls with menstrual hygiene products and improving our educational aspect, but also in sensitizing their male counterparts to be supportive - rather than succumb to menstruation taboo and destroy girls’ self-esteem during such a turbulent phase of their lives. We are also keen to find out what can be done about other menstrual health-related challenges girls face that require more research and data, in particular, how the lack of access to basic painkillers for menstrual pains may also influence school attendance rates. For now, our team at Girl Up Initiative Uganda continues to teach girls about menstrual health, boost their confidence during this challenging time of puberty, and empower them with a useful skill in making reusable sanitary pads.