Menstrual Hygiene Management

mhm
The stigma and taboo of menstruation is a human rights issue. In most parts of Nigeria, Menstruation is surrounded by myths and taboos. It inflicts indignity upon women and girls and violates their rights to non-discrimination, equality, bodily integrity, health, privacy and right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment. Women and girls are forbidden from cooking or preparing meals, participating in social events, working in the field, and going to their various religious places during their periods - they are considered impure, filthy, and even cursed.

Girls using leaves or rags during menstruation are far more susceptible to infections and possibly infertility in the future; and the lack and unavailability of menstrual products push menstruating girls out of school having a negative impact on their right to education

Many girls also cannot afford sanitary products: in rural Nigeria, a package of pads costs 500 Naira which is roughly the cost of a meal for a poor family. With this cost, most male-dominated households will forgo providing necessary products for the women and girls in the family. In these circumstances, rural women and girls make do with what they can find: old rags, magazines, leaves and even feathers.

Mismanagement of menstruation costs girls in every aspect of their lives. Girls in my country miss an average 24% of school year due to lack of sustainable menstrual hygiene solution, and many drop out of school because of poor performance after so many absences.

How then can we achieve gender equality? Girls using leaves or rags during menstruation are far more susceptible to infections and possibly infertility in the future. And being ostracized for a normal, healthy bodily function each month imbues young girls with a sense of worthlessness and low self-esteem.

The best place to make an impact in improving lives for women and girls is in education and health. About 52% of the female population in Nigeria is of reproductive age and menstruating. Majority of them have no access to safe sanitary products and for cultural and religious reasons, menstruation is invisible and silent. Women and girls are subjected to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating. Besides the health problems associated with poor hygiene during menstruation, the lack and unavailability of menstrual products push menstruating girls out of school having a negative impact on their right to education.

Also another problem is the restricted control many women and girls have over their mobility and behavior due to their “impurity” during menstruation. The misconceptions, myths and superstitious concerning menstrual blood and menstrual hygiene have potential harmful implications. Remarkable also, is the lack of awareness by parents concerning reproductive health, sexuality and related issues which is considered a “no-go” area. The level of knowledge and understanding of puberty, menstruation and reproductive health in these rural communities are very low.

In many communities, a girl who attains menarche is seen as mature and ready for marriage and thus married off early leading to child early forced marriage and its attendant consequences.

Consequently, in most parts of these communities, a girl who attains menarche is seen as mature and ready for marriage and thus married off early leading to child early forced marriage and its attendant consequences.

Poor menstrual hygiene management may also increase susceptibility to infection and possible infertility. Furthermore, the odour of menstrual blood also puts girls at risk of being stigmatized and discriminated upon and where female genital cutting is practiced, it further increases their health risks.

A study carried out by HAFAI in two rural community secondary schools in Abuja revealed that absence rates went from 24% before kits distribution to 8% after kit distribution in 3months proving that girls miss days from school due to lack of access to reliable sanitary protection. The teachers also mentioned that often times they see girls leave class with stains on their uniforms and most times girls are less involved in class activities. Also 72% of the girls interviewed said they did not have knowledge about menstruation before onset of menarche. Some of them thought menstruation was a kind of curse or an illness.

Oral interview with some girls also revealed that they sometimes exchange sex for money to attend to their menstrual hygiene needs .Thus, providing MHM solutions has the potential to greatly decrease the risk of sexual and gender based violence among Nigerian school girls. Talking to girls about menstruation also opens a window to talk to them about sexual rights, gender inequality, rape, sexual violence, HIV/AIDS, child early forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Aisha a 42 year old woman was excited to mention that she had never learnt any skill all her life as she was married off early at the age of 14. Now, she feels empowered and confident.

Aisha, 42
Empowered through Sewing and Soap Making