By Dr. Linda Lilian
Menstruation is a vital part of a woman that crowns her reproductive potential and yet it ensues a charge of uncertainty that society shrouds in the possibility of humiliation.
In 2014 working under the Network for Water and Sanitation I developed a campaign to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management in Uganda. Together with the Uganda government line Ministries of Education, Gender and Health as well as the Parliamentary WASH Forum and the Water Sanitation and Hygiene fraternity in Uganda, we marched to Parliament ‘Breaking the Silence’ on Menstrual Hygiene Management. It was a deepest call that drew people from all over Africa and even India at that time, even when it was a Ugandan advocacy effort.
Today the call remains years after the campaign roared and the culminating effect of an unfulfilled pledge to offer girls in schools pads in schools in 2016, stays too. The Ministry of Education and its Gender Department has been active in keeping the torch alight and NGOs such as Simavi, Plan Uganda, Water Aid and SNV among others continue the journey of promoting menstrual innovation that support the girl child in Schools and women. Such innovation include the use of reusable pads as an affordable and environmentally friendly option compared to the disposable pads.
The move to recognise menstrual hygiene as part and parcel of menstrual health, globally is a positive trend that covers the psychological, body ailments, immunity, reproduction as well as the menstrual flow and water, sanitation and hygiene measures required.
Menstruation is not just about pads it is also about the emotional turmoil a girl and woman face during the period due to hormonal drives. It is about the relationship between a girl and her environment during menstruation, whether it ensures her safety, confidence and enables her to sustain her capacity to perform. Poor sanitation during for a menstruating girl or woman translates to infections.
Therefore girls and women’s facilities need to be sanitized and have enough water as well as soap. Additionally the promotion of incinerators to burn the pads is key in ensuring sanitation and prevention of latrines and toilets clogging from menstrual materials disposed in them.
A WASH expert called Chemisto Satya always noted that “We are all a product of a missed period.” Menstruation is the mark of reproduction for a girl and a woman. This is a dilemma in tribes where they envisage it is time for a girl to get married or be engaged in sexual activity.
Therefore sensitization is key. However as a marker for reproduction menstruation means a girl or woman has potential of getting pregnant. Therefore there is need to particularly inform the girl about what is at stake if she engages in sexual activity when she starts menstruating and also for the boys to know that once a girl is menstruating she has the potential of conceiving.
When addressing menstruation, government has to work in a consorted manner bringing the Education, Health, Water and Gender line Ministries’ as well as Agencies like the Uganda Industrial Research Institute and Uganda Bureau of Statistics as well as parliament together to address menstruation as a psychological, reproductive, cultural, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), gender, environmental and economic concern.
This takes it beyond the menstrual pad to fully appreciate menstruation as a health, gender, WASH and education priority.