The continent with the most menstrual health problems? Probably Africa. There are loads of period taboos and not nearly enough tampons and pads. Girls miss school and women can’t go to work because they can’t afford to manage their menstruation in a healthy way. Luckily there are many sympathetic organisations that are trying to change this situation. Like the Community Development Network (CDN) in Cameroon. CDN’s Pimm Westra explains a bit more about this initiative by answering four questions.
What’s the situation in Cameroon?
‘Many girls miss an average of 4 days of school each month, simply because they get their periods. That’s nearly a week of school, or 20% of a school month. Less than 50% of girls attend primary school, and even less go on to attend secondary school. Improving education and employment opportunities is the most sustainable way to accomplish women’s empowerment and gender equity. This in turn is a necessity when it comes to global development and enhancing families to break the cycle of poverty. Yet, if periods remain unaddressed because they are a taboo topic, they can form a major obstacle for women’s empowerment.’
So what do you do about it?
‘We give workshops about menstrual hygiene, which also involve topics such as sexual and reproductive health and human rights. In these workshops, which are given in classrooms and community centers both in cities and rural areas, we try to break the menstrual taboo. We do this by educating girls about menstruation and menstrual hygiene, and handing out sustainable, reusable menstrual hygiene products. At the end of the day, girls go home with the product of their choice, a lot of gained knowledge, and hopefully also with the confidence to go to school five days a week – also when they’re on their period.’
What are the girls’ reactions to these workshops?
‘There is some discomfort, but mainly a sense of curiosity. We get asked questions that fill a whole classroom with laughter, and when someone claims that ‘You should really go to the hospital if you bleed for five days’, we explain that everybody is different and having your period for five days is completely normal. Girls whisper and exchange funny looks when we introduce them to reusable menstrual hygiene products. Most of them use rags or pads for single use and many have never seen menstrual underwear or a reusable pad. None of them has ever seen a menstrual cup, so there’s a lot of explaining to do.’
What can people do to help?
‘Donate. We’re currently raising funds to continue our Menstrual Hygiene Project in Cameroon. Only $8 USD can keep a girl in Cameroon in school during her period. Find our fundraiser here.’
Initiatives in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenia and Tanzania
Also in other African countries, there are similar projects. For example these ones.
Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE)
What do they do: helping women to jump-start social businesses in which they manufacture and distribute affordable menstrual pads out of banana trunk fibres. Plus: debunking myths and taboos about menstruation by giving health and hygiene education.
More info: http://sheinnovates.com
What do they do: creating education and training resources on menstruation and puberty together with establishing local, sustainable access to a range of affordable sanitary products and manufacturing reusable sanitary pads. Plus: creating income generating opportunities for women in Uganda.
More info: http://www.irise.org.uk/
What do they do: supporting adolescent girls to stay in school by delivering reproductive health education and sanitary pads. Plus: supporting the Government of Kenya to be the first to write sanitary pads in the national education budget.
More info: http://www.zanaafrica.org/
What do they do: Setting up a SEGA girls school which provides education for underprivileged Tanzanian girls. Plus: this SEGA school is designing a pilot training series for mentors to give education on empowerment, menstruation and sexual and reproductive health.
More info: http://nurturingmindsinafrica.org/