Today is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. The focus on the subject and how we as a society cope by advancing methods to best deal with the issue makes it a pivotal matter to both women and men.
Menstruation is a taboo subject, more so when it occurs for the first time. When that unwelcomed red stain unceremoniously soaks up the skirt of a girl while everyone in the vicinity, including boys, except the bearer can see it, it turns out to be an embarrassment that haunts the victim for a long time.
Often, a girl’s first menstruation will come in the most awkward time and place – at school, at the market. Indeed, it is confusing to the girl, especially one who has not had prior warning of the matter. What with boys or men jeering and cheering?
For Stella Hamis, 15, a Standard Seven student at Temeke Primary School, her first experience getting her period came at the worst moment imaginable.
“I was in class, I sensed something icky down there which confused me. I kept telling myself that I have to go to the washroom and check what is wrong with me. During break time, when I stood and before heading to the washroom I heard a boy in my class shout “amechinja kuku” meaning I had slaughtered a chicken, Oh God! There was blood stains spread all over my skirt! It was so embarrassing that the stains had blotted into my shirt and everyone in the class was staring at me with amusement,” says the student.
Apart from challenges girls face in accessing menstrual hygiene products in developing countries, education about menstruation health needs to be available not only to girls, but to boys as well. This would equip them on how they can help a girl during menstruation period.
This year’s theme on Menstrual Hygiene Day is; It’s Time for Action. It not only emphasizes the urgency of this public health issue, but also highlights the transformative power of improved menstrual hygiene to empower the world’s women and girls and unlock their economic and educational opportunities. Menstrual Health Day brings together non-profits, government agencies, the private sector, the media, and individuals to advocate for and promote the importance of good menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
The Executive Director Tai Tanzania Ian Tarimo, says it is time to include boys into menstruation health education in order to build a caring and sensitive generation.
Tarimo says when a boy hears something about menstruation period he thinks the topic has nothing for him and forgets that he is tomorrow’s parent.
“I and my team decided to put our effort on teaching boys and men about menstruation health. Our traditional norms do not engage men to discuss menstruation health and thus leave it to girls and women, forgetting that boys and men are parents too or will be parents in the future,” he explains.
Tarimo says they have been able visit and teach 30 different schools in Dar es Salaam. Among them are; Manzese, Salma Kikwete, Urafiki and Mtakuja. They also visited schools in Morogoro, Coast Region and they noticed that menstruation health education is needed as most of boys and men lack this particular education.
Tarimo and his team collect stories and challenges facing girls and put them into 3D animation so as to convey messages to the society, especially boys and men.
“We use storytelling and animations from the story so as to inspire positive behavior among young people. To mark this day we have made a short film which shows how girls face changes when they are in their periods and how boys and men can participate to help the girl feel comfortable during her period,” he adds
Teaching boys about menstruation and other facts related to female sexual health promotes communication, lessens stigma, and creates more empathy. Not having these conversations between boys and girls at an early age can have a large impact on the world.
A teacher from Chamanzi Primary School Irene Mwanga, says there is the need of teaching boys and girls together to remove the aura of stigma and the mystery of the topic as they both miss the opportunity to practice communicating with each other about sensitive issues they will need when they develop intimate relationships in the future.
“Bringing boys and men together helps them to learn this sensitive topic. If everyone opens up and is transparent, boys, men or husbands can be of help to the girl whenever she is menstruating,” she adds.
Mwanga, who is also a top control member of academic, says today’s boys are tomorrow’s men and fathers. “If they fully participated in menstruation health education this will make a girl to be comfortable around her father and can ask for support she might need during that time.”
Breaking the taboo
Myoma Kapya, a parent living in Dar es Salaam, says sharing information about menstruation is taboo. Sharing her previous experiences, Kapya says that when she first got her period, her mother told her never to let any of her brothers or any other person know that she was menstruating. Kapya says the world has changed and men now support when the woman or a girl feels sick or needs any support during that time of the month
The acting Reproductive and Child Health Coordinator from the health ministry, Agnes Mgaya, says men should change their perception on menstrual periods. “It’s a normal biological change a woman’s body goes through every month,” she says.
She further adds that her ministry offers friendly services for youth by teaching them everything about reproductive health.
Baseline survey report on School Girls’ Menstrual Hygiene Management issues, 2014 which was conducted in Sengerema, Chato, Magu, Siha, Babati, Karatu, Njombe and Mufindi districts explains and shows that cultural practices, religious beliefs and social myths make it difficult for both men and women to talk about menstruation.
They also contribute to lack of information, menstruation health facilities/products in school environments and poor management and disposal of these products which exacerbates the situation for women and girls.
The report says according to the interviewed – men, women and girls from Sengerema, Mufindi and Chato districts, menstruating girls cannot be allowed to do or touch anything during menstruation. It was also mentioned that parents are not allowed to discuss menstrual issues with their daughters. Only a grandmother and an aunt are recommended to do so without even knowing the reason behind it.
When parents were asked on how they support their children to manage themselves during the menstrual period they said that, it depends on whether girls will ask for their support; most of them said that if girls asked for their support, they always supported them to get menstrual products/sanitary wears i.e rags, pads (only a few of them mentioned it but even then, only if they had money).
They also mentioned to advise them on how they can keep themselves safe in a secretve way and how they can manage used rags.
76 per cent of parents were aware of the challenges facing girls during the menses while at school. They said, girls sometimes feel sick and get pains i.e stomach ache, tiredness, headache etc which cause them not to concentrate in class and sometimes decide to go back home.
They do not have appropriate changing place/room and disposal facilities. They always go back home to change and occasionally are forced to miss classes especially during the heavy flow to avoid shame, stress and embarrassment. Furthermore, they did not forget to mention the products they use to manage menstrual flow. They said that, all those challenges happened due to the inappropriate products that girls use i.e rags, cotton etc.
Human Rights Watch report says lack of information about menstruation can reinforce stigmas and taboos around periods.
Hatibu Awami 13, a pupil at Temeke, says it is time to bring men into the fight to end period shaming and start conversations with boys and men around.
A study report from Tanzania Water and Sanitation Network TAWASANET-on Improving of Menstruation Hygiene Management in Schools in Tanzania (MHM) studied in 12 secondary schools of Kinondoni and Bagamoyo district in Tanzania revealed that, “...all surveyed schools offered some sort of MHM education to girls and 3 schools out of 9 co-education schools involved in the study, provide some education about MHM to boys. A large majority of girls still need more information on MHM and prefer this information be provided at school.