Educate girls on menstrual health management

HARARE - The only parent Rhoda Munatsi, 14, has ever known from birth is her father Clement who has lived as a divorcee for nearly two decades.

She has two brothers, both older. Although the three men in her life are caring, Rhoda has never had the guts to tell them she is experiencing her cycle.

“I had to learn through trial and error how to wear a sanitary pad.

“I would tell them ijeko and they showed a lack of interest in the subject.

“They do not want to hear about menstruation and they cannot have anything to do with it,” Rhoda said.

From the little she is given as pocket money, Rhoda has learnt to save $2 for two of the cheapest packs of sanitary wear. 

At school, Rhoda is aware that she has to keep her cycle a secret closely guarded from the boys.

“I remember spoiling myself one day and the boys gave me nasty comment like auraya mbudzi.

“Some of the boys showed apparent disgust, I am yet to recover from the embarrassment I felt,” said Rhoda.

Research has shown that one in every 10 school age African girls does not attend school during their menstrual cycle.
Until at least after high school, most young men believed the menstrual cycle happen every month end.

“It is difficult to manage in class. Sometimes you ask to be excused to use the toilet but the teacher may refuse.

“I cannot tell him why I desperately need the toilet so sometimes you just go back and sit then mess up the uniform,” 16-year-old Sharon Furudzai, said.

Talk of menstruation is viewed as taboo and this is affecting girls and women’s enjoyment of menstrual health services as a component their right to health.

Tag a Life founder Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said society should break the silence around menstrual hygiene management so the potential of the girl-child can be fully unleashed.

“The time has come for us to break the taboos and myths around menstrual hygiene management so that we can work together to improve the lives of girls,” Mashayamombe said.

Wearing a pad for longer than recommended may result in ulceration or infection, health experts say. Other factors are economy-related.

National Programme of Action for Children manager in the Health ministry, Alice Sasa, said lack of sufficient funds has left girls struggling to cope with their cycles.

“In a socio-economically constrained environment girls in college cannot afford sanitary wear at the same time they cannot walk around college in cow-dung.

“They end up engaging in unprotected sex to buy sanitary wear,” Sasa said.

According to SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation) for the African continent other girls like Rhoda can lose up to 528 days of their entire schooling days because they cannot afford sanitary wear.

Some girls use rags expose themselves to various infections, cancers or other conditions which normally affect their reproductive systems.

Sasa said menstrual hygiene is linked to millennium development goals (MDGs) as it is a central component of development.

“There is a great link between the two. You cannot talk of universal access to education when the girl child loses a lot of time tending to her menstrual health needs, thereby compromising her grades.

“Sanitary wear has to be appropriate, available, affordable and acceptable,” she said. Sasa said the empowerment of women in the country can never be complete without investing in the area.

“Social exclusion is a reality. If a girl loses between five to 10 days every month, it means a lot of productivity is lost to that girl, her family and the community,” said Sasa during a two-day workshop on menstrual hygiene funded by SNV in Harare.  She added: “From what SNV found, a girl cannot compete with the boy because she is missing school for 528 days.

“It means compromised potential and results, even employment opportunities and early marriages. The cycle of poverty continues.”

“Menstruation is a natural biological process and it is a basic sexual and reproductive health right for every girl child and woman.

“Let us teach men and boys not to discriminate against females when they are  going through their monthly cycle,” Mashayamombe said.

Frank Chipeto, a chemist with Standards association of Zimbabwe, encouraged Zimbabwean women to make sure what they are buying is certified by a recognised standards board.

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