“THE time has come for old traditions undermining girls to end; society should stop clinging to deeprooted taboos and myths related to menses,” observed the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) Executive Director, Ms Edda Sanga.
It is also considered a taboo to even mention the words, ‘menstruation’, ‘pads’, ‘tampons’ or ‘sanitary towels’ in some communities.
According to her, issues about menses in most African societies including Tanzania are often surrounded with stigma, a factor which contributes to most young girls particularly those from poor families failing to access proper facilities and support needed to deal with their situation at that time of the month.
Considering the fact that menstrual hygiene is an important component in the growth of girls, she said it is vital that the myth surrounding this crucial aspect in girls’ lives is being addressed.
She pointed out that families have the responsibility to ensure that these girls are accorded the right knowledge which should go hand in hand with their willingness to listen and advise them accordingly.
Due to life hardships, Ms Sanga said parents and guardians of these girls cannot afford to buy sanitary towels that range from 1,500/- to 4,000/-.
Such being an issue, she said that some of these girls are forced to use unhygienic materials such as newspapers, rags, leaves, tissue paper and cow dung, among others to cover themselves during their menses, something which is jeopardising their health. Neighbouring countries have eliminated taxes on pads and tampons.
Kenya on the other hand repealed its value added tax on pads and tampons in 2004, to lower the prices consumers pay. And since 2011, the Kenyan government has been budgeting about 3 million US dollars per year to distribute free sanitary pads in schools, in low-income communities.
Ms Sanga also cited countries such as Zimbabwe that have gone an extra mile to produce quality free reusable sanitary pads placed in toilets like condoms.
As a remedy, Reusable Menstrual Pads (Rumps) are fast becoming popular with impoverished girls in the country. They are made of bamboo and fleece fabric which is durable, reusable and washable for three years.
“On this note, investment on sanitary pads should be placed as a priority…women should be given the chance to invest in such factories, considering that they are knowledgeable on the issue, it means they know what exactly will be needed. Reports indicate that some girls are even afraid to ask for money from their parents; hence they suffer the pain of womanhood and even miss lessons during their menstrual periods.
According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, one in 10 girls of schoolgoing age in Africa misses school or drops out altogether during their menstrual cycle. Many schoolgirls and women in developing countries such as Tanzania struggle to find appropriate facilities and places to deal with menses.
A Baseline Survey report on Schoolgirls Menstrual Hygiene Management, 2014 for eight districts in Tanzania indicated that most parents said that they would support their children with sanitary products if the prices are lowered to between 500/- and 800/- equivalent to 35 to 40 US cents.
The report further outlined that 82 per cent of adolescent girls lack sufficient knowledge about their body changes and especially on how they can handle and manage themselves during menstruation.
A Form Three Student at Mchinga II Secondary School in Mchinga Ward of Lindi Rural District, Fatuma Rashid (15) witnesses how most girls frequently miss school during their periods each month.
Fatuma said if one was lucky to start their periods on a school day, the matron usually provides a piece of pad to the student.
“Due to the demand, the matron usually spilt each single pad into two pieces…if it occurs that they are finished, people remain at home for the entire time and resume school afterwards,” said Fatuma.
The Chief Executive of WaterAid Australia (an international not-for-profit organisation, determined to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for everyone, everywhere), Ms Rosie Wheen, notes in a statement that embarrassment is contributing to a situation where millions of girls do not know how to manage their period hygienically.
She pointed out that due to lack of decent sanitation facilities, many girls miss school or drop out altogether when they reach adolescence, and in some parts of the world, they are restricted from everyday activities.
Her report also states that worldwide, one in three girls and women face inadequate toilets, and many others face social and cultural limits when they have their periods.
She, therefore, called upon governments to prioritise better toilets and washing facilities in schools, and to provide accurate information around menstruation, to ensure girls and women’s rights to education and equality.
WaterAid calls upon women and men around the world to talk about periods and be ‘PeriodProud’, to challenge the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation that prevent women from reaching their full potential.
The call comes as nations prepare for the July 2018 review of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030, which is expected to show that progress on sanitation is far behind.
Government should prioritise menstrual health and use Menstrual Hygiene Day, commemorated each year on May 28, to intensify campaigns against use of unhygienic pads.