Imagine a world where no girl or woman is held back because she menstruates.” This is the 2030 vision set by WASH United, a German non-profit organisation and the global coordinator of Menstrual Hygiene Day.
Every year on May 28, nonprofits, government agencies, the private sector, the media, and individuals come together to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) and advocate for the importance of good menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
Over 800 million women and girls menstruate every day and yet, across the globe, ‘period poverty’ and stigma has been identified as a top reason for girls missing school. UNICEF has estimated that roughly 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school because of their periods each year. Without access to proper education and resources, girls are often forced to stay home from school when menstruating.
General practitioner, Dr Sihle Asiedu-Darkwah, strongly believes that schools, teachers, and parents can help lead the charge in ending the stigma around menstruation and support young girls as they go through this natural stage in their lives.
We caught up with Dr Sihle Asiedu-Darkwah to find out more about Menstrual Hygiene and also find out more about the role that she thinks schools and parents should play.
What are some of the issues girls and women face today with regards to menstrual hygiene?
Many females are not able to access appropriate sanitary products. This results in them using unsuitable substitutes or not leaving home at all during the menstrual period. This means that they miss out on school, work and other activities due to not being able to access sanitary products that can assist them to continue as usual during the menstrual period.
This further perpetuates the cycle of poverty – as more females do not finish school or sustain employment due to absenteeism.
Many females may not have knowledge or access to different types of sanitary products that can be more conducive to their lifestyle.
There may be females who are active/athletic and want to remain active during their menstrual period but cannot be due to the limitations of the sanitary products they have access to. Some women may have access to products such as tampons – but due to the misconception that tampons break your virginity – they will not use them.
What are some of the important things you believe parents, teachers and schools should teach their children about menstrual hygiene?
There is nothing dirty or shameful about menstruation. It is a natural process where the internal lining of the womb breaks down and is shed by the body. In the attempts to remove shame from menstruation, we need to openly talk about it and address any questions and misconceptions that both males and females may have about it.
I encourage parents to explain to their children that their experience may not be the same as their friends, sisters, or even their own experience. It may take some time to adjust to what is normal for them and to understand their own menstrual cycle. Children should never have to feel as though they can’t speak to their teachers or family if you have any questions or are unsure about the process. Healthcare providers are also a reliable person to discuss any questions that a young woman might have.
There are many different sanitary products that are available to try. Women should be allowed to choose one that fits their lifestyle. Women, young and old should not be afraid to explore their options.
In what ways can parents, teachers and schools end the stigma around menstruation and support girls with their menstrual hygiene?
Parents, teachers and schools need to have open discussions about menstruation in an environment that everyone feels safe to address their concerns or questions. In these discussions, my advice to both parents and teachers would be to (1) Address incorrect information related to menstruation; and (2) Discuss different sanitary products that are available including their advantages and disadvantages.
It must be emphasized that everyone’s experience with menstruation is unique – one person’s experience might not be the same as another person’s experience and importantly, these discussions should be had with both males and females to further destigmatise the shame associated with menstruation.
Schools should ensure that every toilet facility on premises can accommodate for females who are menstruating (having a sanitary disposal bin, toilet paper and the appropriate level of privacy to ensure that females feel safe). There should also be access to sanitary products within the school environment. This may be in the form of a vending machine or access to free products through a teacher/counsellor.
Beyond fighting the stigma around menstruation, what else can World Menstrual Hygiene Day
achieve for girls and women across the globe?
This day should be used to ensure that every female has access to the sanitary products of their choice. It should be used to call on governments to ensure free access to sanitary products so that no female should ever have to miss work, school or other activities due to a lack of access to these products.
Dr Asiedu-Darkwah believes that her empathy is what differentiates her in her field of work, and this is what is required from schools, teachers and parents when approaching topics and issues around menstruation, with both male and female students.
It is through the community of schools, teachers and parents that we can begin to destigmatise menstruation in our spaces and create a conducive environment for girls and women to be free to be the best that they can be without feeling limited due to a natural process that their bodies experience.