Jake is a sustainable development advocate, specialising in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
Menstrual health can be one of the most important aspects of many women's and adolescent girls' lives. It's a natural biological phenomenon, and it's sad that this part of women's lives has suffered huge neglect in most developing countries over the years. This is due largely to the lack of menstrual health education.
What Is Menstrual Health Education?
Menstrual health education is simply the process and methods of teaching women and girls about the importance of menstrual health management. It gives them tools for handling their menstrual situations better, and those tools can also help boost girls' self-confidence.
Barriers to Adequate Menstrual Health Education
Limited Teaching Resources
Though it's important, menstrual health education is often undermined in developing countries around the world. One of the fundamental challenges to menstrual health education in these countries is the absence of a reputable body to teach and empower women and adolescent girls. According to some reports, most schools in developing African countries lack adequate and qualified teachers to impart the necessary knowledge, so having a body to teach this aspect is a far-fetched notion in those schools. In some instances, the teachers do have the required knowledge, but they need training on how to teach the subject.
In many developing countries, particularly in Africa, there are several myths and taboos revolving around menstruation. For instance, in some villages and communities, menstruation is regarded as dirty, unclean and impure. Therefore, it is not an issue that is considered acceptable to discuss in public.
Lack of Government Investment
Unfortunately, most governments in developing countries do not see menstrual health education as a subject that is worth investing in. They neglect the topic for other issues they view as productive to the economy. To most of them, investing in menstrual health education does not yield any tangible or reasonable economic return.
A 2015 PMA study in Kaduna, Nigeria exemplifies some of the conditions under which access to menstrual health management (MHM) tools is diminished. This study also identifies which environments women are using for MHM and highlights disparities in facility characteristics among urban and rural women. The survey included 2,934 females of reproductive age (15 to 49 years in age).
- Only 37% of women in Kaduna have everything they need for proper MHM—such as cleaning materials, a facility, pain medication, and places to dispose of used products.
- Rural women in Kaduna are consistently less likely to have safe, clean and private MHM facilities compared to those in urban areas.
- Women and girls with disabilities in developing countries are consistently neglected in terms of education and support around their periods, despite being more vulnerable to sexual harassment, violence and deprivation of human rights.
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Menstruation Is Natural, Not Shameful
Menstrual health education helps to debunk the myth that menstruation is a thing of shame. There are several myths surrounding menstruation in African countries. In some places, it is believed that menstruation is shameful and should not be talked about. In some cases, when girls are menstruating, they are excluded from all activities in society: they are not allowed to cook or interact with their male counterparts. And sometimes, menstruation is assumed to be a subject of ridicule among girls' peers.
Proper menstrual health education debunks harmful myths and taboos about menstruation. Knowing that menstruation is just a natural biological process can help build a sense of confidence in girls.
Furthermore, a proper menstrual education helps to sensitize girls and women on the importance of menstrual hygiene and the consequences of not maintaining proper hygiene. For instance, menstruating individuals could be more vulnerable to certain infections because their immune system may be affected by the changing levels of hormones and iron.
Menstrual health education can help reduce risk regarding a number of personal health concerns. It's important for women to know the best sanitary menstrual items to use, those to avoid, when to change the used menstrual materials and how to dispose of them properly. All this knowledge also helps in managing one's menstruation without stress, shame or guilt.
What Needs to Happen?
To enhance the growth of menstrual hygiene in developing countries, menstrual health education workshops and seminars should be organized in schools. This is especially necessary for rural communities because rural dwellers are often neglected on important issues regarding health and facilities.
Adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities should be provided by schools, governments and religious bodies so that girls and women will have a convenient place to change and clean up during menstruation. To a larger extent, this will help build self-confidence, enhance equity, eradicate long-standing discrimination and break down societal norms that reinforce traditional roles and prejudice against girls.
Governments and organisations should mobilize people to be involved in menstrual health education. Practices that violate the human rights of women should be abolished. Menstrual health education should not be limited only to Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28th; campaigns, seminars and sensitization on menstrual health should be done daily in schools, market places, local community gatherings and beyond.
Leading MH Advocacy Organisations
© 2019 Jake Idoko