Let’s normalise menstrual health conversations
Menstrual health has been dogged by myths and misconceptions, some of which have made everything around the natural body processes taboo.
The sad bit is that, because of this, many girls and women of reproductive age do not have a safe space to speak out about what they go through, including the challenges they face.
This has dire consequences not only on their health and well-being but also on that of the community. In many cases, girls don’t enjoy their teenage, and many others are forced to miss out on school days. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to health complications.
Fortunately, we can change this. We are capable of scaling up efforts to change the lives of girls and women as they go through menstruation. And the basic step is to normalise conversations around periods, as the theme of the Menstrual Hygiene Day 2022 calls us to do.
Already the government has taken a step in the right direction by coming up with the much-awaited Menstrual Health Management Policy 2020. It is an acknowledgement that women and girls face challenges in managing menstrual health.
The document is vital in institutionalising all aspects of menstrual health, including creating an enabling environment for MHM at both county and national levels and providing information to the public about menstrual health.
It came at the right time when the discussions about MHM had reached a climax. Such discussions highlighted the need to put in measures to ensure that 50.5 per cent of the population can access the quality product and an environment in which their dignity in menstrual health management is maintained.
The process, however, does not stop there. It extends to the implementation of the policy at various levels. It is our responsibility as individuals, organisations – whether public or private – and government agencies to ensure we normalise everything about menstrual health.
At the individual level, we need to not only have candid conversations with girls and women but also rope in the boys and men so that they can understand that menstrual health is not a women’s issue but a societal and human rights issue. This is a vital process in making sure menstruation-associated stigma and discrimination are eventually eliminated. It will also debunk myths and misconceptions that have negatively impacted women and girls and kept them from living a dignified life.
We must also normalise budgeting for period products at the household level, just the way the home would budget for essential items. It is, therefore, necessary to involve men in discussions on menstrual health, especially since most of them are budget holders in the household. This way, they would include period products on budget lists without hesitation. Without this, girls' and women’s menstrual needs would be compromised.
At the stakeholder and organisation level, continuous programs to create awareness of period poverty must be put in place. Period poverty manifests in the inability of low-income women and girls inability to buy period products and related items such as medication and underwear.
Lobbying for the reduction of costs of these products will have a great impact on reducing period poverty and related socio-economic consequences such as transactional sex for pads, which expose them to reproductive health challenges including the risk of pregnancy and infection with STIs.
Further, the conversation should not just stop at affordability but also extend to the quality of the period products. Since the choice of products varies between different people, the availability of varied products must also be enhanced without compromising quality. This means making sure manufacturers maintain standards in the production of disposable and reusable menstrual products.
Normalising menstruation cannot happen without installing the necessary infrastructure to ensure girls and women maintain their dignity in the process. Studies have linked inadequate sanitation facilities for menstrual hygiene to absenteeism of girls from school during their periods.
Often, girls opt to leave school when these facilities are not clean or do not provide privacy. Investment in making these sanitation facilities including toilets, dustbins for menstrual waste disposal and washing spaces, is vital in promoting and normalising dignified menstrual health management.
We should all be champions of normalising menstrual health management. Menstruation is a normal part of life, we must make our systems – from household to government level – reflect this, from budgeting to sanitation facilities and policies. We must also normalise conversations on menstruation to eliminate the long-standing taboos, myths and misconceptions that deny women and girls dignified lives.
— The writer is the Kenya country director at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW)