Much as school communities in Tanzania are embracing the chance offered by the Girls in Control programme to discuss menstrual hygiene management, in rural Tanzania Maasai culture and customs remain stumbling blocks to breaking the silence on menstruation.
Though the issue is being discussed in school committees, Maasai elders still have low regard of menstrual hygiene management. "The Maasai would hear nothing of it, to them the issue of menstrual hygiene should be confined to women only", says Laizer Meijo a teacher at Nkaiti Secondary School. One student, Veronica recounts that her efforts to draw her father into supporting her own efforts to manage her menstrual hygiene were all but useless. "I had asked him for some money to buy myself sanitary pads, but he pretended not to have heard me, I therefore had turned to my mother who gave me 2000 Shillings [US$1.1] to go and buy the pads," says Veronica. "We still face an uphill climb to make improved menstrual hygiene management a reality in the area as Maasai communities still think that sanitary pads cause infertility among women," explains Tina Mahoo, headmistress at Minjingu Primary School.
Ms Mahoo said it was forbidden for a Maasai to talk about menstrual hygiene in the presence of their daughters or even buy sanitary pads for them. "The sanitary pads that you see here were bought [with money] from our own pockets," she said. The headmistress suggests that parents ought to have been given more knowledge on menstrual hygiene and the role they have to play in the welfare of their daughters, as far as the issue of menstrual hygiene management is concerned. "Even though some students are aware of sanitary pads, their parents still instruct them to use pieces of ugali ['stiff porridge'], cloth and Lokaria mud to cover themselves with," she says. In spite of the training he received from FRI-SUCODE, sixty-three-year-old Mesiaki Lamshanga is still convinced that the issue of menstrual hygiene is better handled and taken care of by women.
Many Maasai are still not ready to discuss menstrual hygiene issues with their daughters. The father of four daughters reveals that he has never discussed anything related to mentrual hygiene management with any of his daughters. "You need to know that among Maasai it is forbidden for women or young girls to get anywhere close to us...they would even cover their heads and faces in our presence as a sign of respect," says Mr Lamshanga. He believes that even though they have been trained on menstrual hygiene management by SNV through local partner FRI-SUCODE, it will still take time for Maasai communities to fully understand that fathers also have responsibilities on their daughters.