A lot of development problems edge upon the adult community, however, menstruation is one of those conversations that start pretty early for young girls, and it is painfully associated with either shame or silence. In a world full of resources, and the era of information, it is unfortunate many a young girl have to discover the ins and outs of this bodily function alone.
Access or the lack thereof to safe, sanitary products has been an ongoing issue to the extent where some young girls opt to engage in transactional sex with older men, sometimes referred to as ‘sex for pads.’ By doing this, they risk exposure to sexually transmitted infections or even HIV.
For some girls, the lack of access to sanitary products would keep them away from school for days each month, leading to them missing out on a chance for quality education. And for others, it is the stigma associated with starting their period unexpectedly in school.
Now, we cannot be naïve not to realize that things have gotten better over the years. For instance, there are more options for sanitation- (reusable) pads, tampons and menstrual cups. Also, more organizations are responding specifically to women and girls who need regular support for menstruation sanitation as well as the provision of life skills.
Menstrual hygiene management is an important conversation that needs to carry on since it is an intimate discussion that surrounds dignity. It is a no-wonder therefore that we need to normalize such discussions and allow the younger generations to talk about it freely. Because, isn’t menstruation as normal as any other bodily functions, such as excretion? Further, it is necessary to raise awareness on menstrual irregularities such as endometriosis, abnormal uterine bleeding, amenorrhea etc. that may signify underlying reproductive health concerns. Menstrual Hygiene Management is a social justice issue which influences significant development concerns of health, education, gender equality, and solid waste management.
The question of who should take action has a simple response: Everyone. It is only by a careful and deliberate collaboration that communities can be made better. Governments both at the county and national level can enact laws to promote access to sanitary products. For instance, Kenya has been known to offer thought leadership on matters menstruation especially since the National Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) policy was approved. Time is ripe for implementation. It would be good for non-state actors to integrate human rights principles in their advocacy and work closely with social institutions such as schools, hospitals, churches and the community at large to encourage safe practices around menstruation. Businesses may help to provide sanitation products to girls in need as part of their social responsibility. Parents too must play their part in encouraging safe discussions around menstruation in their own homes.
As with all sustainable solutions, the power lies in the community!
By: Edith Kemunto