As the international menstrual hygiene day is celebrated today, May 28, it is necessary to get girls, especially in developing countries, to break the silence about the challenges they face during their menstrual cycle and educate them on how to take care of themselves during this period, fully accepting it as part of the experience of womanhood.
Most girls are made to go through shameful experiences during their periods such as mockery by boys, separation from group gatherings and even missing school. This is sad as menstruation is a natural occurrence that happens in every girl irrespective of class, ethnicity or religion.
Beatrice Chidubem, a 17-year-old secondary school leaver says: “I remember the first time I had menstruation (menarche). It was during our physical exercise session in school and I was 13. While participating in the exercise, I noticed that all the boys some of the girls around were laughing at me but I could not understand why. It was my teacher who came and took me inside where he told me I needed to go home to change my clothes because skirt was stained with blood. I felt so ashamed, I ran home crying and did not attend school for the next two weeks.”
Myths surrounding menstruation
Most cultures, especially in Africa and Asia, still belief that there are taboos associated with menstruation. Such taboos are based in ideas that girls are unclean during menstruation, that if they touch food, it will rot, to name a few. This prevents girls to participate in social and religious gatherings, or even family meetings. These myths have all been proven to be unfounded and spread by male dominated cultures who dont understand woman’s menstrual cycle. Such stigma prompts girls to hide or stop their period by using unhygienic methods. Reports have it that some women in India use sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash to stem their periods. This exposes them to reproductive tract infections that ultimately affects their sexual and reproductive health.
Nwaeka*, a 19-year-old girl from Cross River, Nigeria says: “Most times when I am menstruating, I use old cloths and sometimes rags, to prevent the blood flow. Purchasing sanitary pads can be expensive for girls like me who have no job.”
This is the sad situation girls like Nwaeka who live in rural poor communities around the world have to go through every month. Most of them ignore the health implications such methods can have on them and it is the duty of both parents, health workers and schools to educate these girls on how to maintain a good hygiene during their periods.
How can girls maintain a good hygiene?
One of the first steps for a girl to maintain good menstrual hygiene is to be certain of when her period is likely to come. This will enable her prepare adequately by carrying or wearing sanitary pads on the expected day the period is to commence to avoid the embarrassing situation of being stained and/or looking for stores to buy sanitary pads if the period comes abruptly. Sanitary pads should also be changed regularly, advisably every 6 hours.
Another step is for parents and guardians to ensure their girls are properly educated at home about how to maintain a good menstrual hygiene. This is where mothers play a major role, and fathers too. Teaching the girl child that menstruation is naturally occurring and is not something to be ashamed of, will encourage openness by the girls. It will also ensure parents are aware of the physiological changes their daughters are experiencing and know when to purchase sanitary pads and other materials needed to ensure a healthy menstrual cycle.
Girls should also avoid using old clothes or rags to stem the menstrual flow as this could lead to reproductive tract infection and ultimately negatively affect the girl’s reproductive health. Old clothes/rags could have bacteria or other harmful substances which when used in place of sanitary pads, could result in infection. Regular medical checks and advice from a medical doctor is another way of knowing how to maintain good menstrual hygiene.
Relating menstrual hygiene to the sustainable development goals
A good menstrual hygiene of the girl child means she would not miss school, she stays healthy, contributes to the economy and reduce poverty which are all in line with the sustainable development goals (SDGs). As was said by Jill Sheffield, founder of Women Deliver during the 4th Women Deliver global conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, 16-19th May, “When we invest in girls and women, everybody wins.” It is therefore pertinent that government as well as parents invest in the health of their girl children so that both the girl, her parents, siblings and society wins.
Author: Nnamdi Eseme
Photo credits: “Toilet Paper for Sanitary Pad: Young Girls’ Confession” by Edward Echwalu