Let’s start the
conversation on why menstruation matters, says WaterAid Nigeria.
Girls’ needs around menstruation have been
neglected by health and education systems around the world, leading to inequity
in education and missed opportunities for girls, says WaterAid Nigeria on the
world’s third commemoration of Menstrual Hygiene Day.
Menstruation is an important issue yet it
is shrouded in silence because of deeply rooted taboos and negative social
norms. On any given day, some 800 million women and girls are on their periods
across the world, and hundreds of millions of them are subject to
ostracisation, shame and risk of infection because of the stigma that still
Today, 28 May, the world commemorates
Menstrual Hygiene Day; a day that affirms the urgent need to talk about periods
and break the silence, taboos and negative social perceptions around
menstruation. It is a day to remember and commit to doing something about the
women and girls in the world without access to safe water and a safe toilet to
manage their menstrual cycle.
More than a billion women and girls around
the world must manage their periods without a safe, private place to go to the
toilet. And nearly half of schools in low- and middle-income countries like
Nigeria do not have basic toilets – meaning girls who are menstruating risk
embarrassment and shame during this time, and may decide not to attend school.
Cultural beliefs and myths about
menstruation are perpetuated by society and often portray women and girls as
inferior to men and boys. This reinforces gender inequalities, often
constitutes discrimination and has a negative impact on the fulfilment of the
universal human rights to dignity, health and education of women and girls.
In many countries, women and girls are not
allowed to cook, go to the farm or are even banished from the family home to an
outdoor shed during each menstrual cycle. WaterAid Nigeria recently carried out
a study on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in Benue, Bauchi, and Plateau
States in Nigeria to explore and understand existing MHM practices and the
context that might impact positively or negatively on the implementation of a
MHM programme in Nigeria.
The study revealed deeply rooted attitudes
and myths surrounding menstruation including the belief that a menstruating
woman or girl is cursed and possessed by evil spirits and brings bad luck. Such
beliefs result in restrictions being placed on girls and women during their
menstruation – including exclusion from attending religious services and even
holding their infants in some of the communities. To make matters works, these
women and girls lack access to safe water or private toilets at home, in
schools and in public places. The effects are devastating.
On a day like this, WaterAid seeks to
contribute to breaking the silence and building awareness about the fundamental
role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and
girls to reach their full potential. We are calling for cooperation with the
education and health sectors as well as those working in reproductive and
sexual health to ensure girls are prepared for the onset of menstruation, to
ensure they can care for themselves in a dignified and hygienic way, and to
dispel the myths and taboos that often accompany menstruation.
Dr. Michael Ojo, WaterAid Nigeria’s Country
“In some communities in West Africa, women and girls
are not allowed to use water sources and latrines during menstruation – the
very facilities they need the most during this time! We must move away from the
dichotomy of placing value on menstruation as a sign of fertility, celebrating
the birth of new life and at the same time excluding women and girls and making
them social pariahs during their time of menstruation. There is simply no logic
to it whatsoever.
“Over half of the girls interviewed in our study said
that they only learned about menstruation after their first experience so when
we talk about menstrual hygiene management, it’s not about providing sanitary
pads. It’s more than that. It’s really about helping young girls and the people
around them, the men in their lives – fathers, brothers, husbands etc., to have
the information awareness and the knowledge around this issue. It’s about
helping girls to have the confidence to manage their hygiene safely and with
dignity and also to ensure that wherever they are- whether it’s at home, school
or even in other public places; that provision is made for them to be able to
manage their menstrual periods safely and hygienically and for the products to
be collected and disposed effectively. So it’s really making sure we have
services that respond to the needs of our young girls and women.
“Proper menstrual hygiene management for women and
girls requires inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools
and public places; provision of protection materials at affordable rates;
behavioural change and communication and a review of existing policies to
address this important issue. Everyone has a role to play. At WaterAid Nigeria
the integration of menstrual hygiene management in all of our sanitation and
hygiene interventions – with a focus on Equity and Inclusion, WASH in Schools
and WASH & Health is critical.”
UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 adolescent
girls in Africa miss school during their menstruation and eventually drop out.
article in the medical
journal PLOS Medicine, co-authored by WaterAid, has highlighted a lack of
guidance, facilities and materials for girls to manage their periods at school,
affecting their health, their education and their self-esteem. Girls facing
shame, fear and confusion around periods have this exacerbated when there is no
clean source of water, soap, or safe, private girls’ toilet with space to wash
A study by USAID has shown that safe,
private toilets for girls in schools, combined with private places to wash, can
boost their enrolment by 11%. There is no denying the critical role access
to water and sanitation plays in helping women and girls, manage menstruation
hygienically and with dignity as well as realise their full potentials.
Every year and for three years now, the
world has marked Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28. WaterAid is a part of the
global network of partners that thinks it’s important to break the silence and
taboos around menstruation; raise awareness of the challenges women and girls
worldwide face due to their menstruation and promote the importance of
menstrual hygiene management.
Menstruation can no longer remain a taboo
subject. By giving this issue the attention it deserves, we will help ensure
every women and girl has access to water, safe toilets and somewhere to wash by
2030. By talking about periods, we can help normalise this natural process and
help girls and women live healthier and more dignified lives.
Read a blog by WaterAid Nigeria Country
Representative, Dr. Michael Ojo, on ‘Making
menstruation matter to everyone, everywhere’ and click here to watch a video of findings from our recent study on
menstruation and menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in three of our focal
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