As the World celebrated the International Menstrual Hygiene Management day on 28th May 2020 under the theme ‘’ IT’S TIME FOR ACTION’’ Uganda was not left behind on the celebrations. Uganda celebrated through Zoom/webinar meetings, social media discussions on twitter, Facebook and What’s up. This is because of the current lockdown. The main idea behind marking this day is to change the social stigma associated with menstruation.
The date May 28 was chosen to observe the day because on average the menstrual cycle for most women is 28 days and the menstruation period for most women is for five days. Hence, the date was kept as 28/5.
Globally, approximately 52% of the female population (26% of the total population) is of reproductive age. Most of these women and girls menstruate each month for between two and seven days. The beginning of menstruation in a girl marks the start of the reproductive life. Its natural phenomenon that occurs throughout the reproductive life of every female.
Despite the fact that Menstruation is a normal physiological process, it is not often discussed openly. Menstruation is not a problem, poor menstrual hygiene is. The Culture of Silence, cultural norms, parental influence, personal preferences, economic status, and socio-economic pressures around Menstruation has become even more evident during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Globally and Uganda inclusive, there existed and indeed still exist cultural and religious taboos associated with menstruation. Girls are made fun of by both male and female pupils/students if blood leaks through their clothes, majority of the male gender including fathers and brothers, don’t want to hear about it as if it causes pain to their ears. The situation is worse in rural areas, menstruation is often disguised through different names like ensonga, akasanvu, omwezi, danger zone, red sea and many others depending on the cultural setting.
Thats why through the Rose Namayanja Foundation (RNF), a non-profit, non-partisan, non-political organisation I established to improve lives of Ugandans especially young people and women with a special focus on health, education, socio-economic empowerment and mentorship, we have had the opportunity to closely witness and interact with communities on this very important subject among others.
We are implementing the Menstrual Hygiene Management project through which we have visited schools in Nakaseke and Luwero districts. I have learnt a lot through meetings with school administrators, students/pupils, Parents and Local government authorities.
One of the important things that this project which is aimed at promoting girls’ education, has taught me the fact that education, especially for girls is so much more than just being able to afford school fees, uniforms and school supplies.
While our thematic education campaign majored on extending bursaries to bright but marginalized pupils/students, I realized that the issue of menstrual health has an impact on how well girls are retained and eventually perform in schools because for many girls who cannot afford proper sanitation during their periods, the only option is to stay at home.
The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, lack of clean toilets as well as the cultural taboo that shrouds menstruation is really holding back a lot of girls from excelling in schools.
By educating both men and women regarding menstruation, we can overcome the false beliefs and taboos. Due to cultural expectations and restrictions many girls were not adequately informed about the realities of menstruation. As a result, they feel subnormal, diseased, or traumatized. Unprepared girls were frightened, confused, and feel embarrassed and hence likely to develop negative attitudes and low self-esteem.
A study by IRC (2020) estimates that one in ten menstruating girls skip school four to five days in a month or completely drop out.
A girl absent from school due to menstruation for four days of every 28 day cycle loses 13 learning days, the equivalent of two weeks of learning and 104 hours of school every school term. Around 23% of adolescent girls in the age-group of 12-18 drop out of school when they begin menstruation.
Despite the global, national and civil-society efforts to fix this thorny barrier to girls’ education, there is still a lot of silence around menstruation and majority of adolescent girls are not adequately supported to manage their menstrual cycle effectively and with dignity.
As other stakeholders are complimenting these efforts, i am calling upon government to ensure that measures communicated to CAOs, DEOs, and heads of primary and secondary schools in regard to Menstrual Hygiene Management are implemented in order to bring in tandem what is on paper with actually what pertains in the schools.
It’s time for action now. Breaking the silence, raising awareness and changing negative social norms is more important now than ever before.
Millions of women and girls from economically disadvantaged sections of the society are finding it difficult to manage their periods safely, hygienically and with dignity during this COVID 19 pandemic.
Periods don’t stop for pandemics, it’s every girl’s right to manage her period safely and with dignity. Together we can create a world in which no woman or girl is held back because of her periods.