Uganda Celebrates Menstrual Hygiene Day

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Not all Ugandan women and girls can afford sanitary pads Internet Photo

Not all Ugandan women and girls can afford sanitary pads

In short
While menstruation and menstrual health is seen as a taboo topic in many African societies, it is a topic that needs to be acknowledged and educated on. Menstrual hygiene is not only crucial for women or girls' well-being and dignity, but it is also a fundamental part of basic hygiene that every woman has a right to.

Regular bleeding is part of a natural process for women and girls. The bleeding can last from between 2 and 7 days. The occurrence of bleeding every 21 to 35 days is called the menstrual cycle period.

While menstruation and menstrual health is seen as a taboo topic in many African societies, it is a topic that needs to be acknowledged and educated on. Menstrual hygiene is not only crucial for women or girls' well-being and dignity, but it is also a fundamental part of basic hygiene that every woman has a right to.

Today May 28th, as Uganda celebrates the menstrual hygiene day, a number of girls live in fear of talking about menstruation because it seems a very private and embarrassing matter to talk about.

The menstruation challenges faced by the rural girl in Uganda rotate around affordability of sanitary towels, accessibility and proper use of the same.

Uganda Muslim Women Vision, an organization based in Bweyogerere Kazinga, Wakiso district, is one such that tries to help women and girls in rural areas access healthy and proper sanitary materials. They make re-usable pads from cloth and polythene paper.

According to the organization's Field Officer Sarah Nakiganda, the pads are accessible by any woman or girl but their major targets are the women in villages, and pupils and students in school because they are trying to eliminate pupils dropping out of school due to menstruation.
"We train women groups and tailors who make them and supply in different villages," Nakiganda said.

The pads comprise of a liner and shield.  The liner is made from a piece of cloth with polythene paper to avoid the blood from flowing out of the knickers. The shield is where the liner is fixed to protect the pad from penetrating. According to Nakiganda, these pads can be used for two years because they are re-washable.

However, the challenge with these pads is that they are costly. Two shields and eight liners go for sh. 10,000, an amount that can barely be raised by a rural family that often survives on a dollar or less every day.

A study on menstrual hygiene in Uganda, conducted by Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and International Water Sanitation (IRC), discovered that overall 70% of adolescent girls are negatively affected by menstruation while at school.

The study was conducted in seven districts of Arua, Adjumani, Bundibugyo, Kasese, Kyenjojo, Lira and Soroti was meant to understand the impact of menstrual management on girls in school, analyze the role of primary schools in menstrual management, and find possible ways how menstrual management can be implemented in primary schools.

According to the study, 77% of the girls missed two to three days of class days per month, 21% missed four to Seven days while 2% missed two weeks. 62% of the girls absent themselves from school because of menstruation periods, and 76% were not satisfied with menstrual facilities provided at school.

47% of the schools provided emergency menstrual pads to pupils, 30% did not offer any, 7% provided emergency uniforms, 4% provided pain relief pills and 3% provided emergency knickers.

According to the national coordinator of AfriPads, a non-government organization which provides menstruation support services, Helen Walker, girls living in rural areas of developing countries do not have access to proper sanitary pads and they use rags and pieces of clothes which are often unhygienic and discomforting.

As a result, to mark the menstrual hygiene day, they prepared a menstrual hygiene management charter which was signed by the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, at Parliament, today May 28th.

According to Walker, the charter intends to raise government awareness about the need to come up with policies that can help support girls in primary and secondary schools cope with challenges that come with menstruation.

"What we are doing is raise awareness that rural school girls do not have access to the materials because they are expensive and inaccessible," Walker said.

The Charter was signed by a consortium of Non-government Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), led by officials from the Ministry of Education, the same who organized the menstrual hygiene day. The organizations included AfriPads, Eco pads, Menstrual Hygiene Management, and Fields of Life, to mention but a few.

In August last year, the State Minister of Primary Health, Sarah Opendi, launched a reader titled  "Understanding and managing Menstruation",  to teach primary school girls how to manage their menstrual periods, in a bid to reduce the number of school drop outs.

However, Walker says there is still so much that needs to be done to help girls overcome challenges that come with menstruation. She says it is for this reason that the Menstrual Hygiene is celebrated.

Today the celebrations were held in Kampala. The celebrations started with a march from Nakawa to Parliament where the Charter was signed; and they later proceeded to the National theatre where a number of primary and secondary schools presented in song, drama and poems.

 

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