IN many cultures, talking about menstruation is a taboo. Writing about this topic in an article titled “How did menstruation become a taboo?”, Anna Druet explains that the impact of typical menstrual taboos is clear, as it can lead to significant challenges in menstrual management, adverse reproductive health outcomes, social ostracization, disease, and even death.
Menstruation stigma is a real challenge, especially today when governments and other development organizations fight for a girl child education in Africa and Tanzania in particular.
More often, the effects of social stigma surrounding menstruation becomes huge due to inability of some parents to afford sanitary products for their girls. It is estimated that about 3 out of 5 girls in Tanzania miss school each year because of lack of access to sanitary pads.
To break this stigma in Tanzania, a campaign named ‘Mimi na Kagera’ has been quietly running in Kagera region.
At the forefront of the campaign is a young man, Lameck Kiula (26).
Kiula believes that an open talk about menstruation is the best way to unlock the problem in Kagera region and beyond. For him: “Communication is key.”
“Girls have to talk about periods in their social circles and in everyday life,” he says, adding that “this will later help fight the existing stigma in families and wider community, and hence be ready to solve challenges surrounding it.”
Kiula works for a Kagera based organization called Jambo Bukoba that employs sports to empower young girls in different life skills. He uses the same concept in ‘Mimi na Kagera’ campaign that officially kicked off early this year.
In all the four schools he has visited in Karagwe and Bukoba Municipal districts in Kagera, Kiula has witnessed challenges facing girls during their periods. As part of a solution, Jambo Bukoba organized a teachers’ training workshop in early 2020. The workshop that involved 22 teachers aimed at giving some skills to the teachers for them to empower girls in their schools using life skills and sports to view menstruation as a normal biological thing.
It is this endeavour that has led to “Hedhi si Aibu” sport, where students in a playful way engrave on soil the words ‘hedhi si aibu’.
“The aim is making them understand that menstruation is normal for any grown up woman, and that talking about it should not be shrouded in secrecy,” Kiula explains.
To strengthen the campaign, clubs will be formed in schools and act as platforms for girls to teach one another on various topical issues related to their periods.
In his discussion with several girls in different schools, he has learned that many girls miss out school every month during their periods due to lack of sanitary pads and because of stigma, saying this problem is not openly discussed by girls, their families and wider community.
Through donations from well-wishers, the campaign has been able to help 300 girls in three schools with sanitary pads covering a period up to March next year 2021. The primary schools are Mugeza Mseto in Bukoba Municipal and Nyavweziga and Kayanga in Karagwe district.
To make this campaign huge and sustainable, Kiula says they are looking at how companies and people hailing from Kagera can help.
“I would like to work with companies producing sanitary pads, other corporates and individuals to touch the lives of many girls in Kagera,” he notes, adding that the efforts will help reduce the number of days girls miss classes due to lack of sanitary pads.
To make the campaign huge and sustainable, Kiula thinks of looking for people or companies who can produce reusable sanitary towels. However, this will be possible for only specific schools with access to reliable clean water.
The call for Kagera is to show people of the region and others that there is a problem that is not spoken, and yet has negative effects on development, because as the World Bank advocates: Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating global poverty.
People who are passionate about girl child education and development are encouraged by the campaign team to come in and contribute for this noble initiative. And this is not a unique problem for Kagera. Solutions applied by ‘Mimi na Kagera’ campaign can be scaled up to other regions in Tanzania in the future.
Emmanuel Rubagumya writes about science, technology and innovation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org