Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day and we focus on Menstrual hygiene management in Africa. Globally, about 52% of the female population is of reproductive age. Most of these women and girls will menstruate each month for about 2-7 days. Women spend an average of 3,000 days (about 8.2 years) of their lives menstruating. Menstruation is an important sign of reproductive health. It is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the uterus through the vagina.
Menstruation is linked to the following SDGs: quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6). Menstruation affects the human right to health, education and sanitation.
Here are 5 facts on menstrual hygiene management in Africa
Girls are still missing school because of menstruation. Many African girls cannot afford sanitary products. They are forced to use rags, socks or paper. Due to the humiliation linked to inefficient sanitary protection they have no choice than to stay home.
When girls drop out of school at an early age, they are less likely to return to education, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations.
Although menstrual products are still inaccessible to women in Africa, governments are finally doing something about it! In 2018 both the Botswana and Kenyan government agreed to provide sanitary pads to girls in public schools. The South African province of Kwazulu Natal also rolled out free sanitary pads to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2015 Zambia became the first African country to allow women to take menstrual leave.
African tribes view menarche (first menstrual period) differently. For example in Zulu tradition (South Africa), a goat is slaughtered and the girl is secluded with her friends, emerging the next day to be bathed, smeared with red clay, and taught lessons for adulthood by other women. In Akan, Ghana young women who have had their first menstruation are secluded from the community for a period between two and three weeks during which they are taught the secrets of womanhood.
Menstruation is part of your human rights. The human right to health, includes having access to health related education and information. This includes access, education and information to sexual and reproductive health. Period shaming is a real thing #StopPeriodShaming . We need to demystify and normalize the menstruation in Africa. It’s not impure or gross. It is just fluid. It is a normal body bodily function necessary for human reproduction. Period tax is a real thing too! Tax on menstrual products makes them more inaccessible to most African women. Following Botswana & Kenya, African governments should make menstrual products free to girls in school. They should also seriously consider removing tax on all menstrual products.