Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019: What is the challenge and what should we know?
Menstruation and hygiene is still one of the biggest problems in many areas in Kenya due to poverty and weather. Pads are still expensive and reusable pads are not sustainable due to lack of clean water in many areas.
Menstrual Hygiene Day aims to create awareness and change negative perceptions around menstrual hygiene. Initiated by a German-based NGO WASH United in 2014, it aims to benefit women worldwide while date 28 was selected to acknowledge that 28 days is the average length of the menstrual cycle. Although Menstruation is a natural, and essential, part of the reproductive cycle ; it is often shrouded in mystery, leading to exclusion, neglect and discrimination. Menstruation is not a girls’ or women’s issue – it’s a human rights issue.
Menstrual hygiene management can be particularly challenging for girls and women in many developing countries (Kenya included) who have no proper access to information or facilities. Furthermore, traditional cultures make the topic a taboo, not to be discussed, making it further difficult for them to address the issue. Poor menstrual hygiene is caused by lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure.
Significant barriers to high-quality menstrual hygiene management(MHM) persist across Kenya and remain a particular challenge for low-income women and girls. Formative research shows that girls face monthly challenges, with 65% of women and girls in Kenya unable to afford sanitary pads. Only 50% of girls say that they openly discuss menstruation at home. Just 32% of rural schools have a private place for girls to change their menstrual product. And only 12% of girls in Kenya would be comfortable receiving the information from their mother. This is according to a FSG report – Menstrual Health in Kenya | Country Landscape Analysis MAY 2016 supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In as much as the world is developing, there is still a huge opportunity for the community leaders and corporate companies to come in and raise awareness in this matter. For instance, Nearly 80% of adolescent Indian girls are aware of sanitary napkins, but only 30% have access to them.
Girls’ ability to manage their menstruation is influenced by broader gender inequities across Kenya and can be hindered by the presence of discriminatory social norms. There may be opportunity to leverage MHM as an entry point to sensitive sexual and reproductive health topics, such as reproductive rights, transactional sex, and teenage pregnancy prevention, but research and programming are still nascent.
The impact is out sized, though. Picture this: Over 80% of women will use old newspapers, rags, or sawdust instead of sanitary pads. And 70% of them are at risk of severe infection because of this.
In addition, one in 53 in these developing countries will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in her lifetime, compared with one in 135 in the UK.
Here are some take a look at tips that help women maintain menstrual hygiene
Keep separate underwear for your period: It is advisable to keep separate underwear to be used during the period. If stained, wash it immediately and disinfect it. It is not hygienic to walk around in stained underwear. Keep an extra pair handy when you are going out, just in case you need it.
Change pads every 4-5 hours: Menstrual blood, when released from the body, attracts various organisms which multiply in the warmth of the blood, causing irritation, rashes or urinary tract infections. Changing napkin or tampons regularly curb the chances.
Wash every time you use the toilet: The outer skin of the vagina has folds which can cause blood accumulation that may lead to bad odor. Wash regularly. Washing the correct way is also important. Wash from vagina to anus not the other way around as it can lead to transmission of bacteria. Also, while using vaginal hygiene products every day is a good idea, using these products during menses can turn things around.
Discard sanitary pads properly: Wrap sanitary napkins properly before discarding them, so the bacteria and infections do not spread. Don’t flush them since it will block the toilet causing the water to back up, spreading the bacteria all over it.
Use one method of sanitation: While some people pair up sanitary pads with cloth, tampons or another pad during periods, it is actually a bad idea. Changing regularly is a better option. Multiple pads/ cloth/ tampons can lead to rashes and infections.
Thus, sanitary pads, which cost an average for a well employed person in urban Kenya , are an expensive affair for them remote villages women, for school girls and domestic works / day laborers. One day, we hope to move such women to menstrual cups, which are far more cost efficient but could be a tad more intrusive for them at this stage. For now, it’s baby steps.
For corporate Kenya, the campaigns will do more good year by year, but the benefits will be seen when much more when more people take this matters more seriously and support such initiatives. And for the wider population, we have to normalize the talk on Menstrual health and support for the affected.