Hi there. Welcome to another day (day 6) of WinterABC challenge and Day 2 of Advocacy Week is here. Today, I’m talking Period Poverty and Menstrual Hygiene. Enjoy!
Akuba dropped out of school last month. Her decision was not by choice, but by a lack of it. Five days out of every month, she misses school on the days when the “lady in red” decides to visit. It just so happened that last month, she came around the time when they were writing their final exams for the end of the school term. Akuba could not go to school because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads and the used, worn-out cloth she improvises with are not trustworthy — they sometimes shift or fall off without her noticing and she ends up staining herself or embarrassing herself in public. That’s how come she missed the exams and wasn’t promoted. She couldn’t stand repeating a class she knew she could have easily passed so she dropped out. There was no point.
Memuna doesn’t talk in class any longer though she’s a very brilliant student who knows all the answers to the teacher’s questions. She used to be a vibrant, active student, who’d answer all the teachers’ questions until that unfortunate incident. She hates herself for it and hates being born female for that matter. If only she didn’t have to see her blood every month, then she wouldn’t worry about staining herself, or being jeered at by some of her blockhead mates at school if she does. Then maybe the time she felt so embarrassed when the teacher asked her to answer a question on the board and the whole class saw her dress was a mess would have never happened. She would be able to walk freely, and boldly to the front whenever and play freely without always having to be cautious.
Fafanyo is heavy with child. She’s in her third trimester, her stomach fully rounded with life inside it. When the young man two blocks away from her school said he had a solution for the menstrual cramps she had been complaining about, she didn’t know it would result in this. She was just a naive thirteen year old while he, twenty-seven and full of knowledge in her eyes, was “the cool guy” who allowed her to talk to him about almost anything, unlike her big sisters who seldom listened to her even finish a sentence. That’s how she ended up discussing her period problems with him to which he offered to help. Well, technically, he did because for some months she didn’t see her monthly flow (which she thought was good riddance) until she began feeling unlike herself, nauseous and easily fatigued. By the time it dawned on her that she was going to be a mom soon, this guy was nowhere to be seen. Now her stomach’s all bloated up. Her family is mad at her but they don’t know that she never wanted any of this either. She was just seeking help.
Are any of these stories familiar to you? Do you know of any Akubas, Memunas and Fafanyos around you? Or have you heard of any? How many girls and even some women sadly are in this pot simply because of our refusal to have a conversation on periods? Well, let’s have that conversation now.
Menstrual Hygiene is critical to the empowerment and well-being of women and girls globally. It is about more than just access to sanitary pads and appropriate facilities that are period friendly – though those are very necessary. It is also about making sure that girls and women live in an environment that values and supports their ability to manage their menstruation with dignity.
According to JMP 2012, Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is defined as: “Women and adolescent girls using clean menstrual management materials to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials.”
Period poverty refers to a lack of access to menstrual supplies and education. This includes menstrual products such as pads and tampons, as well as access to clean water and washing facilities.
Globally, over 500million women and girls still lack access to facilities that can help them maintain good menstrual hygiene. For instance, in Tanzania and Ethiopia, only 1 in every 4 girls have knowledge about menstruation before their first period. In Uganda, 1 out of 2 girls report missing one to three days of school per month due to menstruation. This is a sad statistics that goes to show just how needful it has become that we start to have serious conversations about periods.
About the year 2011, a young girl of about thirteen, spotted certain thick slimy, dark-brown peculiarities in her panty one morning. Alarmed, she queried her mother about it and was told that was her menarche. Nothing scary. End of conversation. She’d get her first sanitary pad—something she would keep wearing the wrong way for a long time because nobody showed her how to do it right. And like many girls her age, who knew absolutely nothing about periods besides the scanty knowledge she’d garnered from school or hearsay, she dreaded ‘those times of the month’. This is my own story. I was that girl-young, confused and clueless.
Unfortunately, this is the problem of many girls in many African homes, where the topic of menstruation or periods is treated as a taboo, somewhat unmentionable. Nobody tells you anything, even mothers and big sisters. It’s like there’s an assumption that somehow you’re supposed to already know how to go about this. Consequently, girls grow up knowing very little about periods, the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos. This leaves them feeling ashamed or despising menstruation, like it were some curse or burden thrust upon the female gender. Not to talk of the exorbitant prices of sanitary pads or the unavailability of other equally adequate and affordable sanitary materials.
Knowledge of menstrual hygiene is important because it allows girls to be prepared for their first period. Talking about menstrual hygiene before menarche is very important for ensuring that girls know how to handle the often scary first period. Secondly, it allows girls to stay in school. At least one in five girls drop out when their periods begin. Those who persist typically miss five days of school each month due to inadequate menstrual protection. And girls staying in school longer contributes to the economic empowerment of not only the woman, but also the family, community and nation. It also helps confront myths and cultural superstitions surrounding menstruation. Educating not only girls and women but also boys and men about feminine hygiene and biology would help to clear any doubts, myths and cultural superstitions about women’s bodies and give them access to correct information about menstrual hygiene and enable women to feel more confident and comfortable with their bodies while allowing men more insight and understanding of the female anatomy.
When women are able to keep and maintain good menstrual hygiene, there are a number of benefits such as a reduction in the risk of urinary tract infections, lower risk of cervical cancer and an overall increase in good reproductive health. There are tons and tons of advantages that I could list on and on just to show just how important it is for us as a people to start treating periods as a serious thing to talk about among friends, family, work colleagues, organizations, social institutions, religious communities and even on national levels. When governments put in extra effort to ensure that women have the adequate materials and facilities for a safe and healthy menstrual process, it would benefit all of us.
I want to applaud the organizations and individuals who have started taking steps in the right direction to help improve the situation. In view of this I’d like to highlight the work of one such organization known as “Happy Monthlies” which is really championing the course to end period poverty in Ghana by providing access to proper and reusable sanitary pads to a number of young Ghanaian girls. They’ve made two successful donations so far all in the Volta region of Ghana. It is a project funded mainly on benevolence and fund raising from people like you and I. The money received is channelled into sewing reusable pads for these girls who can’t afford the disposable ones currently in the system.
It would surprise you to learn that the cost of a single sanitary pad in this country costs nothing less than GH₵6. This is definitely not cheap and not something the average Ghanaian girl can afford every month. Imagine having four daughters and being a single mother who lives from hand to mouth? Even I grit my teeth when buying it sometimes because how the hell are pads so expensive when condoms are totally free! (sigh).
Help advance the course of Henrietta Enam Quarshie (Project Lead ) and her team in their fight against period poverty in Ghana by donating your own quota (anything from GH ₵10 upwards). It is very necessary that we do our part to support our girls and women and bring an end to period poverty. Periods are normal and natural. They shouldn’t have to be a burden or something to be ashamed of. They shouldn’t have to be a problem.
Thank you for reading. Do you think menstrual hygiene or period poverty are real issues worth talking about? What do you think can be done to better improve education on these matters?
Don’t hesitate to support organizations or people in your local community advocating for change.
Find and support Happy Monthlies on Instagram here @happymonthlies.
See you soon with my next post. Till then be safe.