By Lise Carlier, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health
Rosemary James, speaking today during the first day of the annual Global Health Exchange Conference, shared her work on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in Uganda, on behalf of Uganda Red Cross. The WHO and UNICEF define MHM as a woman’s’ access to clean absorbents, that can be changed as necessary in privacy.
James highlights the main issues facing menstrual hygiene in Uganda and the ways we can tackle these through innovate solutions, such as including boys and men in conversations around menstruation.
James mentioned different factors hindering menstrual hygiene in Uganda, with accessibility and lack of information being prominent. Shops often do not sell sanitary products, and when they do they are likely to be very expensive. As a result, women use replacement methods such as cloth, toilet paper, and even grass to mimic sanitary pads. Additionally, it has been found that a number of girls in Kenya and Uganda participate in transactional sex for money to buy menstrual hygiene products. Moreover, lack of reproductive health knowledge in both women and men contributes to myths and stigmas surrounding the topic of menstruation. Girls are left with shame and many absent themselves from school when they are menstruating. In fact, according to studies done in Kenya and Uganda, about 60% of girls do not attend schools when they are menstruating.
Two main solutions were proposed to help women increase their menstrual hygiene. First, there is a need for menstrual hygiene products that are both affordable and reusable, such as reusable pads and menstrual cups. Menstrual cups seem the most favourable in terms of reusability and cost effectiveness as they can be reused for up to ten years. Additionally, James stressed that involving boys and men in MHM is key. Currently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working on a sex education curriculum for implementation in schools for pupils, and for adults through community group discussions. Their involvement would help decrease gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancies, and overall stigmatization around the topic.
There is urgent need to increase access to menstrual hygiene products and decrease stigmatization around menstruation in Uganda. Girls should not feel ashamed to go to school when they menstruate. Both reusable menstruation hygiene products and the inclusion of boys and men in the conversation will be key to lower the stigma and enable women empowerment.
6th November 2018