On International Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28, SNV spearheaded a massive Menstrual Hygiene Management campaign in Masvingo.
The day saw a movement to “break the silence” around Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). Men, women, teachers and children paraded around the community with placards which carried the pledges: “Lets end the hesitation around menstruation”; “I am cool with sanitary pads, it is just a period” and “Menstruation matters”. School children reinforced the relevance of this campaign. Through drama presentations they depicted the saddening situation before the MHM programme.
Men were not involved in menstrual hygiene matters, schoolgirls were shown using old napkins, rags and pieces of clothes with some of them spoiling their uniforms and being mocked by boys. This can be surprising to many students in urban areas as it is impossible for them to imagine attending school without the basic necessities of underwear and sanitary ware, but this is the reality for many girls in rural areas. Girls and women lack adequate solutions to manage menstruation. Research has shown that 72% of rural school girls that menstruate do not use sanitary pads. Due to affordability issues women and girls are forced to improvise with unhygienic materials like cloth, newspapers, dried grass and in some extreme cases cow dung.
The unavailability of adequate WASH facilities and absence of separate toilets or privacy for girls in some schools also compounds the problem. Many girls have no choice but to stay at home during their periods, missing school for 4-5 days per month. Such frequent absenteeism results in lower educational achievements and often leads to girls dropping out of school before completing ordinary level. Moreover there is a culture of silence around periods. Many people prefer not to think or talk about menstruation. Menstruation is supposed to be invisible and silent, and sometimes, menstruating women and girls are supposed to be invisible and silent too. According to Lindile Ndebele, Zimbabwe programme leader for SNV’s Girls in Control programme “menstruation is considered dirty and impure in many parts in Zimbabwe, and as a result girls suffer stigma and social exclusion due to these beliefs”.
We cannot talk about universal education and services for all without talking about menstrual hygiene management. MHM has a serious impact on the education, health and dignity of women and girls. SNV, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women Affairs is piloting a comprehensive MHM project which includes research and documentation, skills training, capacity development of school and community structures, awareness raising and education, construction of infrastructure in the form of girl friendly toilets, production of Reusable Sanitary Menstrual Pads (RUMPS) and formation of strategic partnerships. The programme is focusing on capacity building for adolescent girls, demystifying the taboos surrounding menstruation and orienting them to better manage the menstrual process.
The programme has seen the construction of girl-friendly toilets in schools in Masvingo and placement of incinerators for safe disposal of sanitary pads. Now girls can easily access their requirements during school hours. “This programme is now making it possible for us to come to school during menstruation,” says Constance Chitombo, student at Chirichoga High School. “The thought of someone bumping into you in the toilet while changing your rags or the rags accidentally falling out while at school was unbearable … it was better staying home or people not knowing that you are on your period, otherwise boys would be on your case laughing at you.” Through training from SNV, girls have started sewing RUMPS and even sharing information on MHM with their parents. Men on their own have started discussing how they can support their partners and children. At school level, teachers have now opened dialogue with the children and provide sanitary ware when it is needed. Boys also now appreciate MHM issues and are now more supportive to the girls. In many communities there has also been an overwhelming acceptance of RUMPs.
Women and men now make RUMPS and sell them in their communities. In one community in Mashava, the group is selling these RUMPs to the community and health centres. As one Mashava group member Juliet Mapaike says, ”RUMP making has become a business for me, I can now easily make money and at the same time assist myself and my girls when it is that time of the month.” These groups have also been empowered to disseminate information on menstruation to communities. Though at first there was hesitation in talking openly about the subject, communities are freely discussing menstruation and why it matters!