Key insights on MHM 2016

This year May 28th the whole celebrated Menstrual hygiene day with the theme “Menstruation matters for everyone everywhere”.   In Uganda organizations commemorated the day with running awareness campaigns in media online and news prints. Globally international partners also shared their stories on experiences where they work and this we also had a chance to share some of the trending articles via this blog. We have compiled a list of some of the stories published worldwide to mark the day in the list below.

  1. Periods are the next frontier of humanitarian response

  2. Menstruation matters…period

  3. From taboo to empowerment: menstruation and gender equality

More can also be found on

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Do we know enough about menstruation and the price girls are paying?

Menstruation has long been a neglected topic, but a new generation of researchers are now shedding light into the shadows.

“Girls are literally selling their bodies to get sanitary pads,” says Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard. “When we did our study in Kenya, one in ten of the 15 year old girls told us that they had engaged in sex in order to get money to buy pads. These girls have no money, no power. This is just their only option.”

It’s only been in the last few years that researchers have finally begun delving into the subject of menstruation, and the impact it has on the lives of young girls and women in low-income countries.

For millions of them, a universal lack of clear information and education makes menstruation a source of shame and embarrassment. And in some cases, researchers are now uncovering ways in which menstruation brings even higher costs that may affect the course of a young girls life.

“The persistent taboo around menstruation means that limited information is available to young women,” says Sabrina Rubli of Femme International. A study by the Canadian organisation in Nairobi revealed that 80% of girls had no idea what their period was before they started.

That sense of shame, the sense of being guilty of an activity so secret that that no one will even talk about it, is then compounded by cultural prejudices and beliefs around menstruation which vary from country to country and region to region. In some cultures, it emerges, women are told that eating certain foods during their period will make them smell bad, in others women are sent away from the home or not allowed to bathe, while yet in others an association is made between menstruation and sexual activity. One Ethiopian girl told a researcher; “When I menstruated, my father saw me washing my underpants… He asked me what it was and I told him nothing. He demanded an answer and picked up a stick to hit me.

“I dropped everything and ran to my mom. My mother told my father not to hit or scare me because it is normal for girls to experience this. My father said, ‘I send her to school to learn, but instead she goes into the forest with anyone [to have sex] and comes back home.’ My mother tried to explain, but my father did not believe her. He said that menstruation happens only after a girl has had sex with a man and that I am not ready. Then, he beat me and asked me to tell him who did this to me.”

Schools in particular can be full of pitfalls. There may not be adequate bathroom facilities; many have shared latrines, no locks on the doors, and no running water. According to the research, some teachers are unsympathetic and teaching methods may compound the problem. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, teachers prefer students to stand up when they answer a question, and girls often talked about their anxiety that they would have to stand up and reveal stains on their clothing.

“Sometimes when I am in class and the teacher is teaching, I don’t concentrate on what is being taught because your mind is always on the thought that when you stand and your clothes will be blood stained and the teacher will see, hence you don’t concentrate.” Partly as a result, and partly for all the other reasons, girls often miss school when they are menstruating. The World Bank has estimated that a girl may thus miss between 10-20% of her education.

And even the basics – things that many women take for granted, like buying sanitary ware – become a burden for these young girls. A 2013 study in Kenya revealed that girls end up using whatever they can lay their hands on; old clothes, blankets, cotton wool or tissue, and even, very occasionally, grass or leaves. Parents are either unwilling or unable to come up with money for sanitary ware, and so girls ask boyfriends for money. A 2015 study [pdf] by this same team heard girls’ accounts of having sex in order to get money for pads from the girls: “‘Some people exchange sex for money,” one young girl told her interviewer. “The money is used to buy pads. Maybe she is being given money then they have sexual intercourse.’Continue



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Integrating Menstrual Hygiene and Management into Community-led Total Sanitation

We all know menstruation isn’t just a hygiene and sanitation issue. But, community-led total sanitation (CLTS) does show promise as one approach to breaking the silence around this taboo, as I learned this past Thursday in a webinar hosted by the CLTS Knowledge Hub and the Institute of Development studies.

CLTS initiatives that openly discuss MHM issues validate the needs of girls and women as being equally important as those of boys and men. In so doing, CLTS efforts create opportunities to destigmatize and normalize menstruation for the physiological phenomenon that it is. Not only can the CLTS process get the conversation started, but CLTS activities can also help establish new positive norms by challenging boys and men to reflect upon what they can do to help girls and women during menstruation or simply making menstruation a less embarrassing topic of conversation.

Addressing menstruation may help increase the participation of girls and women in CLTS efforts, as they are the experts on the subject. Incorporating the voices of girls and women may, for example, help ensure that the design and construction of latrines is attuned to MHM needs. And, as girls and women gain confidence to speak up about MHM issues, they may become empowered to voice their opinions on other topics.

Whether you’re leading a CLTS process or other MHM activities, it’s critical to identify the needs of and reach marginalized and vulnerable populations such as individuals with disabilities, out-of-school girls, low-income populations, rural residents, the homeless, and the prison population. They, too, have the right to the knowledge, skills, and tools to be able to manage their menstruation with dignity.

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Menstruation: a source of stress or pride?

Imagine that you’re a woman experiencing a menstrual cycle with no privacy to manage it, no one to talk to, and no clean materials to manage your period with dignity.

In South Africa, and in many poor countries around the world, menstruation is rarely talked about, and can be a source of stress and embarrassment, as well as pose a safety risk for girls and women. In addition to the roughly 2.4 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation, and the nearly 1 billion who must defecate in the open, there is a need to call attention to the often taboo topic of menstruation.

In many low-resource settings, women must be resourceful and use recycled or old cloth as the primary tool for period management, though women and girls have also been known to use mattress stuffing, old rags, sheets of school workbooks, even dried leaves and ash.


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Why, in Kenya, menstruation doesn’t have to mean an end to education for young girls

For girls and women in Ireland, it is impossible to imagine attending school as an adolescent without the basic necessities of underwear and sanitary towels, but this is the reality for many girls in Kajiado County, in Kenya, home to the Maasai people, a semi-nomadic pastoralist community.

Menstruation without these items means many girls have no choice but to stay at home from school for 4-5 days per month. The impact of such frequent absenteeism results in lower educational achievements and often leads to girls dropping out of school before completing the KCPE – the Kenyan Primary Certificate.

Aidlink and the Girl Child Network have worked in partnership on this issue for 10 years, creating girl-friendly learning environments for some of the most isolated and disadvantaged school children in Kenya. Together they developed the School Sanitation Improvement Project, which is now operational in almost 100 primary schools throughout Kajiado.

The project sets out to ensure primary school-children, especially girls, are enrolled in school, stay in school, perform well and continue to secondary and higher institutions of learning. A central part of this involves tackling one of the ongoing obstacles to keeping girls in education in Kenya, that of menstruation.

For most girls, getting their first period is often a trying time, but for girls in rural Kenya it can mean an end to education. Aidlink and the Girl Child Network’s project improves the school learning environment by providing water tanks, girl-friendly latrines, sanitary towels, underwear and the delivery of sexual maturation training.

Additionally, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is a core cultural practice among the Maasai people and is considered a pre-curser for marriage. For Maasai girls who stay in school, FGM and early marriage may be delayed, but poor performance and absenteeism due to menstruation often leads parents to disregard the benefits of education. Without school, girls as young as nine are subjected to FGM and subsequent childhood marriage. In times of hardship and drought, girls are traded as brides in exchange for livestock.

Although illegal in Kenya, FGM remains a cultural rite of passage for many traditional Massai communities, but progress is being made. In schools where the School Sanitation Improvement Project is not operating, FGM rates are around 73 per cent among Maasai communities. In schools where it is operating FGM rates have decreased to 62 per cent, and continue to decline.

Source:  www.aidlink

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Vision and leadership taking place around Menstrual hygiene management in Uganda

// Vision and leadership taking place around menstrual hygiene management in Uganda :: IRC// // //

Globally we see a new movement focusing on “breaking the silence” around menstrual hygiene management (MHM). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be reached if we do not tackle the taboo around MHM. Menstrual Hygiene Manangement falls under two SDG goals, namely goal 4 which focuses on ensuring inclusion and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all. And SDG goal 6 focusing on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. This means MHM has a serious impact on the education, health and dignity of women and girls. So basically, we cannot talk about universal education and services for all and leave out menstrual hygiene management.

By Marielle Snel (Programme Officer- IRC HQ) and Lydia Mirembe Ssenyonjo (Communication & Knowledge Management Officer – IRC Uganda)

Worldwide, approximately 50% of girls and women are of reproductive age. Most of these women and school girls will menstruate each month for between two and seven days, for at least thirty years of their life. New data show that the world is still unlikely to fulfil one of the most modest commitments: to get every child in school by 2015. More than 57 million children continue to be denied the right to primary education, and many of them will probably never enter a classroom (UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2013). Part of this disparity is attributed to a lack of separate WASH facilities at schools, especially for girls during menstruation age.

Particularly in Uganda, there has been a great effort to focus more on menstrual hygiene management. In July – August 2012, SNV and IRC carried out a pilot action research entitled “Study on menstrual management in Uganda”, funded by Austrian Aid. The study, conducted in selected schools in seven districts, found that on average, over 57% of schoolgirls aged 11-13 absent themselves from school due to menstrual-related challenges. The study found that around half of the girl pupils in the study report missing 1-3 days of primary school per month. This translates into a loss of 8 to 24 school days per year. This means per term a girl pupil may miss up to 8 days of study. On average, there are 220 learning days in a year and missing 24 days a year translates into 11% of the time a girl pupil will miss learning due to menstrual periods. The study revealed a clear lack of sustainable menstrual hygiene management support, from basics such as suitable facilities to psychological support for girls dealing with menstruation. One key means of keeping girls in primary school is the provision of better menstrual management materials and facilities. If not addressed properly menstrual hygiene management will not only lead to more girls missing school, but can potentially cause an increase in the number of girls dropping out of school altogether.

In August 2014, the first ever menstrual hygiene management conference was held in Kampala, Uganda which brought together over 200 delegates from among water, sanitation and hygiene practitioners in Uganda, across Africa and beyond. Delegates came from  NGOs, the private sectors as well as government. The conference theme: “Break the silence on menstruation; keep girls in school” has since resonated in the key developments around MHM. First, a motion on menstrual hygiene was tabled in Parliament in November 2014. This was followed, in the beginning of this year, by the directive of the Ministry of Education and Sports, requiring schools to provide girls with sanitary pads. The ongoing review of the school health policy also provides an opportunity to address MHM more decisively. The mainstream media have also kept MHM on the public agenda, by constantly providing ample space for its coverage, particularly in the education sections. It would appear then that MHM in schools is clearly being prioritized in Uganda. But is this truly really the case?Continue

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Lack of privacy: 15 girls out of school

By Francis Emorut

A total of 15 girls in Kabweri Primary School in Kibuku district have dropped out of school as a result of lack of privacy during lessons on how to use sanitary pads during menstruation periods.

According to the head teacher of the school, Margaret Namwenge, the school does not have a changing room for the girls and this has impacted on them when they want to use pads.

As a result, the senior teacher uses the Primary One (P1) classroom – after the pupils have left in the afternoon – to counsel the girls on the proper use of the sanitary pads.

The school head appealed to MPs to advocate for more funds towards the construction of a changing room for girls to prevent more from dropping out of school.

“We are supposed to have privacy with the girls when we show them how to use pads but they have been stigmatized by some boys who peep at them,” Namwenge told MPs of the parliamentary forum on water, sanitation and hygiene.

The legislators were on field tour to assess the implementation of the water, sanitation and hygiene program in schools.

Kibuku Woman MP Sarah Wenene talks to the headteacher Margaret Namwenge (left) as the Kibuku LC5 Christopher Mupalama and RDC Margaret Wazikonya (right) look on. (Photo credit: Francis Emorut)
District education officials and members of the civil society were also on the tour.

The field visit was organized by Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group in partnership with Build Africa, Network for water and Sanitation Uganda and Water Aid Uganda aimed at providing lawmakers with information on the ground to enable them advocate for increased financing for water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in schools.

Edith Nawederake, a teacher at the school, said the boys keep telling the girls that they are now mature girls ready for marriage, saying this has stigmatized many girls.

Efforts are ongoing at the school to sensitize the pupils about menstruation – and how it is normal for girls to go through that. Out of the 1405 pupils at the school, 775 are girls.

Sarah Wenene the Woman MP for Kibuku was shocked by the “terrible” and called on district leaders and the education ministry to address the matter.

Christopher Wamika, senior education officer, told the MPs that the resource envelope was small and therefore his office cannot do much. He appealed to legislators to advocate for more funding.

The MPs who were on the field tour included Jacob Opolot (Pallisa) Julius Maganda (Samia Bugwe), David Muhumuza (Mwenge) and Waira Majegere (Bunya East).

Broken desks inside the school administration cannot be repaired due to inadequate budget. (Photo credit: Francis Emorut)

Pupils studying while seated on the floor due to lack of desks. (Photo credit: Francis Emorut)

Pupils of Kabweri Primary School in Kibuku district in the playround. The boys’ peeping habit has been blamed for girls’ drop out.  (Photo credit: Francis Emorut)

A computer and a typewriter donated by the late Bishop Gonahasa lie idle due to lack of electricity at the school. (Photo credit: Francis Emorut)

PATIENCE PAYS BUT … : Pupils at the school in a queue to the pit latrine. (Photo credit: Francis Emorut)

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