Being a global Menstrual Health (MH) month, May gives us an opportunity to scrutinise how the prolonged constricted approach to and management of MH continue to impact undesirably on girls in rural schools and poorly resourced settings.
It is incontrovertible that effective menstrual hygiene has direct and indirect effect on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) three (good health and well-being of people), four (quality education) and, five (gender equality).
Whenever girls cannot benefit from education opportunities due to challenges of menstrual health management (MHM) we cannot talk of universal education. Such inequalities make menstruation to be a gender issue as well as tilting factors in the overall health of girls and subsequent maternal health.
Among girls in rural schools and poorly resourced settings actual “menstrual poverty” is a shocking reality. The follow-on material deprivations, limited knowledge and support structures is unacceptable.
We must begin by focusing the spotlight on programmes at the onset of menarche. How well do we prepare girls for menstruation? There is a recognised need for pre-menstrual preparation to ensure that the emotional stability of girls overrides the mere handling of menstruation.
To a large extent, the increasing cases of teenage parenthood in the country come due to lack of reproductive health awareness and deficiency of training of girls on self-management of perceptions of maturity. When this is missing great desire and inclination to engage in risky and irresponsible behaviours become manifest.
A bottom-up approach that incorporates the boy child must also be fronted. Integrating boys in MHM is the only way of developing a future-oriented society that will be supportive of girls and ensure movement towards zero stigmatisation.
Our schools must also be MHM friendly. To do this, we must review and broaden the physical infrastructure assessment tool for our schools. The routine school inspection must scrutinise beyond Student Toilet Ratio with a view to ascertaining the level of compliance and availability of basic infrastructural setup needed for comprehensive MHM.
From education point of view, every adult in the life of adolescent girls, whether at the family household decision making level or at school must be adequately sensitised and prepared to be supportive of MHM.
We Keep it Secret so No One Should Know, a 2013 study by Mason L, et al exploring young school girls’ attitudes and experiences with menstruation in rural western Kenya, states that in the absence of parental and school support, girls cope, sometimes, alone in hazardous ways.
In short, as we commit this month to MH and count down to the world-wide observance on May 28, this year’s theme — It’s Time for Action — gives an opportunity for all actors to drill into the nitty-gritty of MH in an all-inclusive way and develop an expansive bundle of strategies that can enable girls to reach their full potential.