Focusing on menstrual hygiene: impressive move
Celebrating, the world over, a ‘World Menstrual Hygiene Day’ is simply impressive. Whoever put that day up for critical awareness of menstrual issues must be commended.
Briefly, it is a day that the world is being asked to create awareness in whatever possible way and break the myths and taboo that sometimes shroud menstruation, a natural occurrence in the lives of girls and women is most appropriate in one’s view that the World Health Organisation (WHO) prefers to refer to it as Menstrual Health because this natural phenomenon involves the health and well-being of women.
Growing up, what the average mother was likely to talk to a daughter about her periods was more on the possibility of getting pregnant and therefore to be careful of male relationships. Leaving home for boarding school, a mother will provide enough sanitary pads and go further to educate the daughter on its use.
Unlike what is obtained in today’s school curriculum, there was not much classroom education on personal hygiene or menstrual health for girls.
We saw friends who went through a harrowing week of menstrual pain whenever it was their period. Some just had to be confined to bed, those days.
Others endured days of heavy flow of blood and with some severe cramps every time they had to go through the monthly cycle. It was a dread for those who suffered from their monthly cycle.
Today, things have changed tremendously. To know that at the global stage, menstruation of girls and women is being pushed forward on national agenda with country specific focus because of its health implications and likely implication on national health budgets is commendable.
Menstruation has been seen in some cultures as a taboo, even in this 21 Century. In some traditions a woman is considered unclean and unfit for certain assignments, especially relating to chieftaincy issues. Though discriminatory, this practice, unfortunately, still has a place today.
I learnt from someone, to my dismay, that polygamy was a known tradition perpetrated by men so they could enjoy their continued sex life.
Such men, I was told, used menstrual periods to space their visits to their second or third wives switching to the wife not in her period whenever they pleased.
These are some of the traditional negative thoughts and practices that one believes have been ditched for the better. The institution of World Menstrual Hygiene and Health Day definitely has changed things for the better.
The critical education being brought to the world’s attention during this important period is emphasising the need for girls and tomorrow’s mothers to have an early awareness that menstrual health and how to stay through it hygienically can help prevent infections and reduce odour.
Early awareness also helps anyone going through their period to stay well and comfortable. Thankfully, unlike years ago, there are more menstrual products on the market today to help with knowledge on how to stay clean and healthy in one’s period.
The WHO has escalated the education and awareness beyond just hygiene to also include health and well-being. According to WHO, menstrual health has been placed on the global health education and human rights.
They have drawn attention to such experiences as shame and embarrassment because some of the girls and women going through their periods do not have the means to manage their periods.
WHO therefore calls for the world to recognise and frame menstruation as a health issue “with physical, psychological and social dimensions”.
And how true. Just a few years ago, for example our Ministry of Education pushed seriously for underprivileged school girls to be provided with free menstrual pads. The case was that there was a lot of school absenteeism from girls with one of the reasons being menstruation.
The argument was that due to inability to afford pads and therefore the use of improvised materials for their menstrual flow, there was accidental staining of clothes. This thus earned them ridicule, especially from male students. For this reason therefore, the girls chose to stay at home until their period was over.
When the ministry started supplying the free sanitary pads, school attendance by girls was said to have increased in those areas piloted. So it is important that dealing with awareness and how to manage menstrual periods can lessen the social and psychological burdens of girls and women in that bracket.
The focused education on May 28 each year therefore is welcome news. Parents, teachers, older sisters and above all girls are being spoken to on that day and being reminded of the responsibilities and the management towards health and hygiene during those critical cycle of menstrual flow.
Happily, the message seems to have gone down very well to the extent that this year for example, one saw in the news and on social media, lots of activities including symposia, demonstrations, education and distribution of free sanitary pads in schools.
Last week, many organisations and individuals responded to the call and funded the free supply of sanitary pads backed with demonstrations on how to use and dispose of them.
May 28 each year should continue to bring not only awareness but goodwill from people who sympathise with the social, psychological and health issues of menstruation to help the needy and widen the knowledge and education on menstrual health and hygiene in communities.