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Breaking the silence on menstruation

Throughout our seven years of actively raising awareness on menstrual hygiene, the question and answer session where students share their knowledge on the topic has been the most interesting part.

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It is also during these sessions that you hear the many myths and misconceptions about menstruation and why it is important for us to keep “shouting” on this topic. “Does sex reduce menstrual cramps?

Can I have sex during my menstruation? Does sugar increase my flow? A boy told me frequent sex will take away my menstrual cramps, how true is that?” These are only a handful of the questions that Dr John Kwamina Bosomtwe, the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist on the team has to deal with in almost all the six regions we have been to.

There are also many other questions that he answers privately because the girls are too shy to ask them to the hearing of their colleagues and teachers. In some instances, to get them to speak freely, we give sanitary pads and other gifts from our sponsors as “rewards” for asking questions or making contributions.

Then, there are also many moments of loud “eeei” and giggles when the medical doctor makes references to the vagina and its parts and how to clean up properly. We have had to extend our engagement sessions to address the concerns of the young girls we interact with because we know the first step to demystifying menstruation which is a natural occurrence is letting the girls know that menstruation is not a taboo.

Menstruation not a taboo

Having led campaigns for open conversations around menstruation as we are aware of the many myths the natural phenomenon is still shrouded in, we believe education is the cornerstone of change, and through creating platforms for open dialogue, we can empower young girls with the knowledge and confidence to advocate themselves and others. This is essential in dispelling myths, challenging taboos and fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect.

Access to sanitary products is equally crucial. No student should have to miss a day of school or compromise their health due to a lack of menstrual products. We are happy to note that many corporate organisations have joined the campaign by sponsoring events on menstrual hygiene.

Menstruation and mental health

Our outreach events in schools across the country have revolved around menstrual hygiene, female empowerment and sexual abuse. This year, in addition to these important issues that affect the lives of girls, Lady Julia Osei Tutu, wife of Otumfuo Osei Tutu, the Asantehene, who is our patron, introduced the importance of good mental health in the lives of young people.

An often overlooked but equally important aspect of menstrual health is its impact on mental health. The stigma and misconceptions surrounding menstruation can lead to feelings of shame, anxiety and isolation for many individuals.

By fostering open conversations and providing accurate information, we can alleviate these negative emotions and support the mental well-being of those affected. Mental health services and support systems must be readily accessible to ensure that no one suffers in silence.

Moreover, the physical discomfort and hormonal changes associated with menstruation can also affect mental health. It is essential that we acknowledge and address these challenges, promoting a holistic approach to health that includes both physical and mental well-being.

By integrating mental health education and resources into our menstrual health programmes, we can create a more supportive environment for all our students. Adolescence, a crucial period for developing social and emotional habits, comes with a lot of changes which, when not managed properly, can affect the mental health of young people.

We believe mental health education is indeed as important as academic education as it enhances social skills, decision making skills, promotes self-awareness, reduces stress and anxiety, improves self-esteem, and improves academic performance.

Campaign for change

Through these campaigns, we hope to equip these young people with relevant knowledge and information to understand their mental well-being. We are grateful to the media houses who have and still give us the platform to talk about this important topic as we acknowledge the power the media has in shaping public discourse.

As we commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day, let us renew all our commitment to this cause. Let us work hand in hand to eliminate stigma, ensure access to menstrual products, and educate our communities. In doing so, we will build a healthier, more equitable and inclusive world for all.
 
The writer is the founder of Touching the Lives of Girls Foundation International, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to educate, inform, enforce and monitor proper menstrual hygiene practices among adolescent girls.

Email: [email protected]

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