Joyce Chimbi
May 30, 2016

Girls’ needs around menstruation have been neglected by health and education systems around the world, leading to inequity in education and missed opportunities for girls, says WaterAid Nigeria.

Dr. Michael Ojo, WaterAid Nigeria’s Country Representative, says: “In some communities in West Africa, women and girls are not allowed to use water sources and latrines during menstruation – the very facilities they need the most during this time! We must move away from the dichotomy of placing value on menstruation as a sign of fertility, celebrating the birth of new life and at the same time excluding women and girls and making them social pariahs during their time of menstruation. There is simply no logic to it whatsoever.”

Dr Ojo’s remarks came over the weekend as the world commemorated the third Menstrual Hygiene Day.

The world commemorates Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May; a day that affirms the urgent need to talk about periods and break the silence, taboos and negative social perceptions around menstruation. It is a day to remember and commit to doing something about the women and girls in the world without access to safe water and a safe toilet to manage their menstrual cycle.

A study by USAID has shown that safe, private toilets for girls in schools, combined with private places to wash, can boost their enrolment by 11%.
A study by USAID has shown that safe, private toilets for girls in schools, combined with private places to wash, can boost their enrolment by 11%.

In many countries, women and girls are not allowed to cook, go to the farm or are even banished from the family home to an outdoor shed during each menstrual cycle. WaterAid Nigeria recently carried out a study on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in Benue, Bauchi, and Plateau States in Nigeria to explore and understand existing MHM practices and the context that might impact positively or negatively on the implementation of a MHM programme in Nigeria.

The study revealed deeply rooted attitudes and myths surrounding menstruation including the belief that a menstruating woman or girl is cursed and possessed by evil spirits and brings bad luck. Such beliefs result in restrictions being placed on girls and women during their menstruation – including exclusion from attending religious services and even holding their infants in some of the communities. To make matters works, these women and girls lack access to safe water or private toilets at home, in schools and in public places. The effects are devastating.

Now, WaterAid is seeking to contribute to breaking the silence and building awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. They are calling for cooperation with the education and health sectors as well as those working in reproductive and sexual health to ensure girls are prepared for the onset of menstruation, to ensure they can care for themselves in a dignified and hygienic way, and to dispel the myths and taboos that often accompany menstruation.

Dr. Michael Ojo, WaterAid Nigeria’s Country Representative, notes: “Proper menstrual hygiene management for women and girls requires inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools and public places; provision of protection materials at affordable rates; behavioural change and communication and a review of existing policies to address this important issue. Everyone has a role to play. At WaterAid Nigeria the integration of menstrual hygiene management in all of our sanitation and hygiene interventions – with a focus on Equity and Inclusion, WASH in Schools and WASH & Health is critical.”

Menstruation is an important issue yet it is shrouded in silence because of deeply rooted taboos and negative social norms. On any given day, some 800 million women and girls are on their periods across the world, and hundreds of millions of them are subject to ostracisation, shame and risk of infection because of the stigma that still surrounds menstruation.

Water Journalists Africa, established in 2011 as a not-for-profit media organization, boasts a membership of journalists hailing from 50 African countries, dedicated to reporting on water, climate change,...

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