The Fundamental Issue of Menstrual Hygiene.

At Right By Her, our fundamental ambition is to ensure that the rights of women and girls across Africa are respected and that they are able to fulfil their potential. One of the most basic of issues that girls are facing across Africa is menstrual hygiene, with one report even saying that a total of 4 in 5 girls in East Africa lacking access to health education and sanitary towels. The issue lies not only in education around sanitary hygiene, but in the cost of sanitary products and the geographical access to products, especially for those in rural areas.

We talked to Ryanne Joel Kasumba, Chair Person for Muvubuka Agunjuse Youth Club, in Kampala, Uganda, to find out more about his experience of the issue in his area.

  1. Describe the issues regarding sanitary hygiene (pads) in your local area?

As in most African traditional societies, many people in Kisenyi wrongly perceive menstruation as unclean and embarrassing, which limits all conversation about menstruation as a subject, and particularly pads whether in public or in private. Girls who live in male-dominated households are even more disadvantaged because there’s no one to talk to at any one time.

Most of them don’t even know what pads are; sometimes they think pads are for only adults and end up staining clothes due to the fear to report their cases.

Poverty is also another issue, which worsens the stigma because in cases where a girl cannot afford to buy pads, she resorts to using tissue, which leaves her vulnerable to regular stains and embarrassment. The resultant bullying and unnecessary comments from friends at school sometimes just makes it easy for the girlsto decide not to go back.

  1. How does it affect girls and women in your area??

Girls who fear to express their challenges during this stage often find it hard to get help from either their parents or any other responsible adult. This leaves them vulnerable to all manner of infections as a result of poor personal hygiene.

The stigma really affects school attendance for some girls and makes them feel abnormal.

  1. How does it affect their education and future?

There’s just this general misinformation issue on menstruation which continues to prevent young girls from living to their full potential. Because they continue to have limited access to advice about what do during their periods, they miss school just to avoid the stigma. Sanitary pads are super expensive and as a monthly investment, are just impossible for an unemployed little girl to ever expect to afford.

  1. Does it have any impact on their relationships?

Yes, in most cases it creates a gap between them and their parents because they don’t know what’s happening to their bodies and they don’t know how or who to ask for help. It affects their interactions with friends due to poor menstrual hygiene practice they stain clothes, develop infections that cause odour and wind up feeling embarrassed and like outcasts among their peers.

  1. How many girls and women in your local area can access sanitary pads?
Age category Reusable sanitary pads Single use sanitary pads
08-12 11% 09%
13-15 14% 28%
16-20 30% 35%
21-24 38 53%
25 and above  17% 70%

So clearly the biggest issues lie with the teenage group.

  1. In your experiences how can the situation be improved?

My Youth Club, Muvubuka Agunjuse started a reusable sanitary pad-making project. Of course it’s still very small scale, but it’s an opportunity for us to provide a solution to a challenge in our community. Our team goes to schools and communities with support from Action 4 Health Uganda to teach young girls how to make reusable pads for themselves. While there are many organizations distributing these items to schools, we feel like our inability to compete with them enabled us to think outside the box and think about empowering the girls to help themselves. It’s so much more sustainable, especially given that the reusable pads are really easy to make.

  1. Is sanitary hygiene a taboo topic in your local community? Do people talk about
    the issue in the local community?

It’s less of a taboo subject than a misunderstood topic. Most discussions about menstrual hygiene in our community are guided by the belief that it’s only a female issue. Men run as far away from the discussion as they can.

  1. How can this issue be resolved in your experience?

It is wise to continue to open community minds to the fact that menstruation is not just about girls, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. Our Club has done this a lot in the past, and there is a slight change in attitudes of late. At least, instead of walking away from the discussion, men are staying to listen these days. It is a sensitive topic but patience is the name of the game. It’s important to make this topic more common in communities so that everyone can own up to their responsibility to protect the dignity of women and girls.

We are really grateful to Ryanne Joel Kasumba for his time and for the enlightening interview. Please comment with your experiences and share this post on your social media channels with the hashtag #RightByHer.

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