Menstruation must be demystified

Menstruation must be demystified

Date: May 29, 2017
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By Tarisai Nyamweda

Johannesburg, 28 May: At 11 Lelo*, who lived with her grandmother started menstruating and could not understand what was happening to her body.

No one had ever talked to her about it except for the few embarrassing conversations they had at school when the boys would be asked to stay in class and allow the girls go to the school hall to discuss “sensitive” matters. The discussions begin and end inside closed doors.

When she told her grandmother, what was happening she was given a couple of cloths to use, wash thereafter and put out to dry in a hidden place. Her grandmother strongly advise her to ensure that no one gets to know about her “condition”.

As we reflect on Menstrual Hygiene this week, it is daunting to know that this is a lived reality of many young girls who are forced to experience their first period in an important life event characterised with a sense of shame, confusion, anxiety and uncertainty.

A feeling of unpreparedness and embarrassment overwhelms them as they have little information to act on what is happening to their bodies. Yet in many communities menstruation remains a taboo topic. It is largely a private act muddled with many challenges that are hardly brought to light because it is still not talked about.

Lack of knowledge and adequate information continues to disempower girls and reinforces the stereotype of regarding menstruation as a shameful event. Even though this occurrence is one of the first steps into womanhood, lack of education on the issue breeds a disempowered generation of women. Young girls do not need to feel embarrassed about the changes occurring to their bodies they need support to manage these occurrences in a healthy manner.

For women and girls living in poverty, this natural occurrence becomes a double burden on the meagre earnings their families have, if any. Access to basic reproductive health needs is limited. The cost of sanitary towels itself is out of the reach of many. As a result young girls are forced to use unsafe options which may be detrimental to their health in the long term.

Some girls resort to skipping school during the time they experience monthly periods. The World Bank reports that “on average adolescent girls miss up to 20 percent of the school year due to a lack of facilities or a lack of information or a lack of sanitary products.” This means a natural occurrence like menstruation can impact negatively on girls’ performance in education and even dropping out of school.  This further disempowers and sinks them deeper into the jaws of poverty.

According to the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2016, “a lack of clean, safe and segregated toilets is bound to discourage girls from attending school.” Hence provision of safe and clean facilities in schools becomes paramount in keeping girls in school and must be prioritised.

In response to these multiple challenges some Government departments have begun offering free sanitary towels to girls from disadvantaged schools to help keep them in school and also have improved facilities. Other innovative initiatives such as reusable pads, menstrual cups and period panties that could help restore dignity to young girls have also been started. However is this enough?

Calls continue to come from all corners of society to lower the prices of sanitary wear. It has also invigorated the argument that if governments can afford free condoms why not free sanitary pads for girls or even subsidise them? Menstruation is not a choice but sex is so why not invest further in menstrual hygiene and allow girls to live normal lives?

By prioritising Menstrual Hygiene Management and putting deliberate strategies to respond to the plea of young girls and women governments can also contribute to achieving a number of cross cutting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including, quality education and gender equality.

Girls need sufficient education about their bodies in general and menstruation in particular from an early age as these are lifelong changes they will carry into woman hood. Information on reproductive health is key to contribute to women’s health. The more people are educated on the subject the more likely they are to open up on the discussion and begin to dismantle stereotypes about menstrual health and hygiene.

The veil on the mysteries of menstruation must be lifted so that young girls are empowered to live healthy lifestyles. If lack of knowledge, understanding and access to products continues it will to be a forever standing hindrance to girls from full and effective participation in social and economic life.

*Not her real name

Tarisai Nyamweda is the Media Coordinator at Gender Links .She writes in her personal capacity. This article is part of the Gender Links News and Blogs service.

4 thoughts on “Menstruation must be demystified”

Ms K says:

I can relate to this story having grown up with my fathers relatives at age 11 i strtd my period and was so scared to tell them so i kept quiet when i finally told them i was given old rugs to use because there was no money to buy pads and i would always soil myself at school i hated going to school wen i was on period. Pads were a privilege and i was not even living in rural areas i was living in the capital city.
Please write more about this

Nyamweda says:

Thanks for sharing Ms K we definitely need more stories on this topic.

jabulani says:

great piece Tarisai

Nyamweda says:

Thanks Jabulani

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