Menstruation is a term that most of us are familiar with. A woman’s monthly period is a biological process that is out of human control, one which occurs by default. In as much as we address issues of menstruation in a cautious manner, we need to go further and be bolder in highlighting everything that has to do with menstruation.
Menstrual hygiene cannot be over-emphasised. It is fundamental for every woman and girl to understand what entails menstrual hygiene. What really should one do when facing the monthly period?
As the world commemorated the Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD) themed ‘No More Limits’, on May 28, Woman Magazine has taken focus on highlighting the importance of proper menstrual hygiene practices and breaking the silence on talking about menstruation in our community.
First off, before one can comfortably tackle the hygiene part of menstruation, they need to have access to right information that explains the whole process of how to properly maintain a clean monthly cycle.
Available information from menstrualhygieneday.org shows that, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that it is important to raise awareness and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity. This can partly be done through commemoration of the menstrual hygiene day globally.
Furthermore, it’s suggested that opening up a discussion on the use of safe hygienic materials, together with adequate water and spaces for washing and bathing and disposal of used material, along with privacy and dignity will help in the whole process of maintaining proper hygiene during the monthly cycle.
Access to disposable facilities
Flora Ikanye, 32, a banker, is well aware of the challenges that women face during the monthly cycle. Even though she hasn’t gotten her head around the global commemoration of menstrual hygiene, as a woman, she fully supports the course.
She says, at her work place there’s access to clean water. However soap and disposal facilities are not enough. The latter often get filled up by mid-day.
“Sometimes the disposable facilities in the washroom get filled up real quick, to the point that some women decide to leave used pads out in the open in the ladies washrooms,” she says.
But that’s not the end of the hygiene paradox at her workplace, the banker says that soap, and essential part of the hygiene process, is at times inaccessible in the washrooms.
Hamis Malebo, Principal Research Scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), looks at how inadequate hygiene facilities during the monthly periods affect school-going girls. Commenting on the disposal of used menstrual materials, he says absence of clean and private sanitation facilities that allow for menstrual hygiene discourage girls from attending school when they menstruate.
According to the researcher, every building must have menstrual hygiene infrastructure and facilities such as lockable toilets, closed bin for sanitary item disposal, sink for hand washing and cleaning of clothes.
Adding to that he says, in Tanzania 1 in 10 school-age girls do not attend school during menstruation or drop out of school due to absence of menstrual hygiene infrastructure and facilities.
Juhudi Nyambuka, a health officer with Water, Health, Education and Community Development (WAHECO) in Temeke, says it is important for ladies to keep clean during menstruation. The health officer says cleanliness is one of the ways of keeping their health on track hence enjoy their womanhood.
Changing of sanitary pads
Commenting on how often one should change a sanitary pad, the health officer says this depends on the flow as it differs from one woman to another. However no matter how heavy the flow is, one should change a tampoon after every two hours and a pad should be three to four hours.
“Changing sanitary pads on time helps minimise bad odour and bacterial infection that can be formulated in the blood,” she says, adding that apart from endangering your health you will be very uncomfortable around your colleagues because you will be self-conscious about the stain and the possible smell that can result from it.
Juhudi also touched on the topic of proper disposal of sanitary pads. She says that sanitary towels and other menstrual hygiene materials can have a negative impact on the environment with system blockages or failures that result to problems in sewers or wastewater treatment plants.
She says that the impact is significant because an average woman uses about 125 to 150 kilograms of tampons, napkins, and pads during her lifetime.
Another important facility to have in order to maintain proper menstrual hygiene is adequate number of toilets.
Aisha Abdalla, a primary teacher in Dar es Salaam, says that lack of enough toilets as well as disposable facilities forces them to carry used pads from school and dispose them at home.
She says menstruating at a place that has no proper facilities is never easy. Apart from the mood swings one goes through during menstruation, adding an unfriendly environment doesn’t help with the already uncomfortable situation.
“It takes a strong woman to manage her menstruation period with no stress.
This is a very stressful time and majority of women fall under pressure during their cycle due to the challenges as well as the biological factor that affects a woman during this period,” says Aisha.
She points to the fact that grown up women have a better understanding of how to maintain proper menstrual hygiene even when facilities are non-existent, however, for the younger generation it becomes a bit hard, a situation that leads to wrong disposal of used pads everywhere.
The monthly period has a chain reaction. If a woman is unable to have access to hygienic facilities during that time of the month, her mood swings become heightened. Commenting on that, Dr Julius Twoli, who works at Bagamoyo district hospital, says mood swings are caused by hormonal change in a woman’s body which is responsible for temper variation during, before and after a woman’s period.
Minimising stress during monthly period can help a woman concentrate on maintaining hygienic menses.
The doctor further states that mood swings vary on how they affect women. Some become angry and some even cry for no apparent reason. It is because of the production of the hormone called estrogen.
He further elaborates on the effects of the hormone, by stating that it can result to bloating, cravings, tension, cramps etc and this situation contributes to the amount of mood swings during menstruation period thereby affecting how a woman handles her days.
He lists different ways a woman can soothe the pain through taking a warm bath, hold a hot water bottle or heating pad over the cramp zone, taking gentle exercise, avoid foods with too much sugar as well as drinking warm drinks.
Barriers to proper menstrual hygiene
Hyasintha Ntuyeko is the Director of Kasole Secrets Co. Ltd, a company that produces and distributes Glory Pads but also runs the Hedhi Salama Campaign in schools and communities
She says the menstrual hygiene day is the best platform for addressing the barriers, success and way forward in menstrual matters as a country, while placing a call of action to the government, community, religious and traditional leaders.
“As a country we lack latest researches that will back-up the menstrual agenda especially one that addresses the challenges that women and girls face. However a number of baseline surveys that have been done by different stakeholders across the country cited a lot of barriers that menstruating women/girls are experiencing to be in the form of education, health, water, disposal systems and availability/affordability of menstrual materials,” says Ntuyeko.
So proper menstrual hygiene practices boil down to things such as changing of sanitary pads, good disposal of used pads, washing hands to remove germs, using clean and private washrooms, controlling mood swings, and soothing cramps.