Taboos cause challenges in menstrual health management

Breaking the silence around the taboo nature of menstruation and promoting good menstrual hygiene management are essential for women and girls to reach their full potential.

June 21, 2022 by Beverly Mumbo, Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
3 minutes read
Students in the middle of a conversation in front of restrooms for girls that include a changing room at Gbimsi Junior High School, Savelugu, Northern Region of Ghana. Credit: GPE/ Stephan Bachenheimer
Students in the middle of a conversation in front of restrooms for girls that include a changing room at Gbimsi Junior High School, Savelugu, Northern Region of Ghana. May 2016.
Credit: GPE / Stephan Bachenheimer

Good menstrual hygiene management—the management of hygiene associated with the menstrual process—plays a fundamental role in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.

Lack of access to information on menstrual hygiene and sanitary products, persisting stigma and poor sanitary infrastructure are causes of poor menstrual hygiene, which affects girls’ social, economic and academic well-being.

Women and girls who are unable to practice good menstrual hygiene management are often exposed to other reproductive health problems such as teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions, compromising their education because of a lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene, care and management.

Good menstrual hygiene management plays a fundamental role in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.

While several women and girls across the world face challenges managing their menstrual health and hygiene, girls living in low-income households are disproportionately affected. The challenges are higher and the repercussions more severe as they are less likely to have access to information on menstrual health or sanitary products because of their economic circumstances.

For example, research indicates that 65% of women in Kenya are unable to afford menstrual hygiene products and are often pushed to engage in transactional sex to acquire the necessary products. While engaging in transactional sex, because of their lack of agency, women and girls are often unable to negotiate for safe sex and end up suffering other reproductive health challenges, including risks of contracting HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

In sub-Saharan Africa, many girls will miss 20% of their school year; some may drop out of school altogether. This condemns these women and girls to a cycle of poverty, reducing their participation in economic development and decreasing their health and social outcomes.

Programs that provide menstrual hygiene products

While some countries such as Kenya have programs that offer free sanitary products in public schools to ensure that the levels of absenteeism reduce, nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders have had to step in to offer further support.

The different stakeholders have agitated for reduced costs of sanitary products and development and implementation of menstrual health management policies. These are necessary interventions; however, to be more targeted and effective, it is prudent to have menstrual health management conversations with girls at the menarche stage or while in schools to ensure that they get the necessary and accurate information at an early stage.

Because of the “taboo” nature of menstruation, households will not have conversations around menstruation—what it is, when to expect it or how to manage it.

Most young girls are often caught by surprise when they have their first period and do not know what to do.

Most are embarrassed and tend to hide rather than seek the necessary information. When girls do seek information, they often seek it from peers who may not necessarily have the correct information and end up misled.

Organizations such as the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) run programs to create awareness within schools to ensure that girls get the correct information on their menstrual health. In partnership with the Right to Play and WaterAid under the Sexual and Reproductive Health Education program, FAWE has taken a holistic approach in addressing menstrual health management.

Because the negative impacts of a lack of good menstrual health and hygiene cut across sectors, the consortium has taken a multi-sectoral and holistic approach in working to improve menstrual hygiene in the countries such as Ghana, Mozambique and Eswatini.

By working with the diverse ministries and schools at both primary and secondary school levels to address menstrual health management, FAWE expects that it and other reproductive health services and information will become easily accessible to girls.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique

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