Why Should We Care About Menstrual Hygiene?
The theme of this year’s International Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD) was education. The founders of MHD argue that education on menstrual hygiene changes everything. They call for improved information and menstrual hygiene education for boys, men, teachers, health workers and other professionals so that they can break down negative social norms and provide accurate information and support.
They have argued for the inclusion of menstrual hygiene management as a critical component of reproductive health training for adolescents, building the capacity of teachers to teach about MHM with comfort, the breaking down of taboos around periods, the availability of water and sanitation facilities in schools and work places in order that women and girls have privacy and dignity as well as policies that reduce the cost of menstrual absorbents and are kind to the environment
At Let Them Help Themselves, we have spent the past year looking at access to menstrual hygiene in schools in Ntungamo district SW Uganda. The program focuses on the provision of information on menstrual hygiene as well as ensuring that girls can access menstrual absorbents.
In the course of the year we learned that 53% of girls we spoke to did not know what a period is before they experienced it. 42% of the girls regularly miss between 2-5 days of school each month during their period because they do not have access to sanitary products. We also learned that some amongst the girls use unsanitary products such as old rags, mattress stuffing etc. during their periods.
Education about menstrual hygiene should concern us all. As part of this year’s MHD activities in Ntungamo, we distributed free Menstrual Hygiene kits to women in the village of Rwentojo SW Uganda. We have been working with this group of women on income generation.
This got me thinking about the role of business in the promotion of menstrual hygiene. For instance, how and where does business fit into the promotion of menstrual hygiene? Is it through their supply chains or perhaps in places of work? Is this even an issue that business concerns itself with?
Do employers for instance, provide flexible working conditions that enable women that suffer painful periods to take time off or work from home should they need to? What about access to female only washrooms?
These are things that we in the West might take for granted but what about elsewhere in the world? For instance, a study entitled Menstrual Hygiene Management-The experience of nomadic and sedentary populations in Niger found that 55% of women in Niger miss work as a result of their period. You can read the full report here. In my opinion, that sort of statistic would have huge implications for a business’s bottom line because it would impact productivity and outputs.
Menstruation hygiene matters to business in other but perhaps subtle ways such as the availability of skilled workers. Businesses need skilled people to grow and thrive and this cannot be achieved if the education system is not producing the necessary skills or female employees miss workdays due to periods.
With respect to education, in countries such as Uganda, access to Primary School Education is free under the Universal Primary Education initiative, but gaps exist in addressing issues that prevent girls from dropping out of school and some of these reasons are to do with poor menstrual hygiene management in schools. This includes the availability of water, toilets, washrooms and hygienic menstrual products. It is not enough to increase school registration for girls who then drop out due to a lack of menstrual hygiene management.
In the long run this has direct implications for a country’s economic development due to a large number of girls who become adults that are trapped in poverty due to a lack of skills which they can use to create their own employment or access employment elsewhere.
The founders of MHD have argued, that in order for countries to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 12, nation states must pay attention to menstrual hygiene management. This being the case; Governments, Civil Society as well as Business should take menstrual hygiene management seriously.
Our fight to enable women and girls to access information on menstruation and hygienic absorbents continues and you can be part of it by making a donation to our campaign here.
Ida Horner is the Chairperson of Let Them Help Themselves and can be contacted via Twitter @idahorner or email: [email protected]