Today is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. A day we should all feel free and happy to celebrate despite the culture of silence around menstruation and despite that the story has not changed much for many girls around the world with so many school days lost. The absences are caused by girls not attending school during menstruation, many girls forced to miss school each month because of inadequate toilet or washing facilities and insufficient access to sanitary towels.
Today’s Campaign, #MenstruationMatters is to raise awareness of the stigma and practical difficulties many girls face.
To start at the beginning, many girls around the world are not taught what menstruation is until 'menarche', or their first period. Many girls think they are dying when this happens. Many girls have explained that there is a ‘culture of silence’ around menstruation, including in their families. Male family members have no knowledge of menstruation and girls do not feel comfortable even talking to their mothers about the subject. In turn, this ‘culture of silence’ creates a culture of shame and embarrassment around menstruation in families and communities. The stigma around menstruation and menstrual hygiene (is) a violation of several human rights, most importantly of the right to human dignity.
|A Dig Deep sponsored Menstrual Health Training session conducted|
by our expert partner WASH Utd
The list of synonyms that refer to menstruation is never ending. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t even utter the word! In areas where Dig Deep work, menstruation has been associated with something dirty, disgraceful, embarrassing….but how can something so normal and natural a function be associated with shame, stigma, and taboo? The stigma is due, in part, to a lack of knowledge – so here is an attempt to shed light on how Menstruation Matters.
The only way to break the taboo is not only by hiding it but making it so available and out in the open, speaking it out. For too many girls the inner turmoil that happens during menstruation is unbearable. They feel scared, impure, dirty and embarrassed. In schools we partner with, taboos, myths surrounding menstruation are more recognised than menstruation itself. It’s very sad when I listen to the girls in those schools putting across these taboos that they uphold; “I can’t go to church when I’m having my periods because it’s a sin, I can’t visit a vegetable garden because the vegetables will dry up, I can’t play sports during my periods because I’ll lose a lot of blood and become anaemic, I can’t talk it to my father about it because in my culture it’s not allowed, I can’t serve my father food or my brother because I can get a curse.”
In one of the schools there is this girl who wrote a shopping list and gave it to his father, he read it through and came across an item called ‘sanitary towels’. And the father asked her, why do you need an extra towel, you only need one and you’re lucky you have one in our time we never used towels to dry ourselves.
This girl was so embarrassed and ashamed and the only thing she could do is to wait to get back to school and asked one of the teachers to explain to the father what sanitary towels are for.
“In these rural areas it’s tough for these girls being a woman of modest", one teacher said. "We need to change that, no girl should be stuck home, they should be continuing with their studies, most importantly they should be able to talk about menstruation without feeling embarrassed, It’s not a girl issue, it’s a human natural issue but we have just isolated it.”
The biggest problem is managing it. When I was a kid in school, tying the sweater around our waists was a pretty cool thing to do…and walk with a bounce. Then we woke up one fine day, it had become an act of SHAME. Many girls when asked how they feel about menstruation, this how they respond; “I hate it, it’s a misery. Boys in class laugh so much when the teacher explains the process of menstruation during biology lessons. I wish we could all be more relaxed and feel comfortable talking about it.”
Girls drop out of school because they have no access to supplies, not every girl can afford the mainstream sanitary towels or the "fasten your belt", "spread your wings pads" as many boys call it, but also because they attend what many of us call “girl-unfriendly schools,” or schools that
- Don’t have separate toilets for girls. Without decent toilets or washing facilities, girls' health is put at risk and they are likely to drop out of school rather than face the humiliation
- Lack access to clean water. Lack of water made the cleaning process even more cumbersome and
- Don’t have separate environments for girls to wash and dry reusable cloths (especially an issue with boarding schools). The use of clothes are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected as a result they suffer from reproductive disease caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
Dig Deep would like to thank Days for Girls for the 60 free kits of re-usable sanitary towels and 52 panties they donated in the Mara. All our work on the Mara is facilitated by the Olare Orok Motorogi Trust to whom we thank also. The kits will be distributed to girls in schools during Menstrual Hygiene Management training in schools that starts on 8th June -13th June.
|Training male teachers is a vital part of breaking the taboo|
Dig Deep not only has provided access to improved sanitary facilities and access to clean water in many schools in Bomet and Narok, also through the concept of Menstrual Hygiene Management training in schools is breaking the silence around menstruation issue by educating girls, boys and teachers about menstruation and shattering myths around it. Male teachers are part of this training, at first they are embarrassed and on the other hand girls feel shy but when the male teachers are baptised with a female name before the training it begins becomes an open interaction; they feel free, happy and confident.
Like Muruganatham says “the sanitary towel has to be brought out of the closet” so is menstruation. It’s time to break the silence and get this done! Let’s engage in the dialogue, let’s talk Menstruation.