Vera Golde

WaterAid has called on governments around the world to prioritise better toilets and washing facilities in schools, and to provide accurate information around menstruation, to ensure girls’ rights to education and equality.

As the Menstrual Hygiene Day was marked recently, the international organisation observed that one in three girls face inadequate toilets, and many others face social and cultural limits when on their periods around the world.

The call comes as nations prepare for a July 2018 review of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030, which is expected to show that progress on sanitation is far behind.

According to a release issued by WaterAid Nigeria’s Communications & Media Manager, Oluseyi Abdulmalik,” more than a billion women and girls around the world must manage their periods without a safe, private place to go to the toilet, risking infection as well as being subject to ostracism and shame because of the stigma that still surrounds menstruation.

“Globally, about half of women and girls, around a quarter of the world’s population, are of reproductive age; most of them will menstruate every month. Menstruation is an important issue yet it is shrouded in silence because of deeply rooted taboos and negative social norms.

“Cultural beliefs and myths about menstruation are perpetuated by society and often portray women and girls as inferior to men and boys. This reinforces gender inequalities, often constitutes discrimination and has a negative impact on the fulfilment of the universal human rights to dignity, health and education of women and girls”, it added.

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’s study on menstrual hygiene management in selected states in Nigeria, 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.

Nearly half of schools in low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria do not have basic toilets – meaning girls who are menstruating risk embarrassment and shame during this time, and may decide not to attend school.
UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 adolescent girls in Africa miss school during their menstruation and eventually drop out. An article in the medical journal PLOS Medicine, co-authored by WaterAid, highlights a lack of guidance, facilities and materials for girls to manage their periods at school, affecting their health, their education and their self-esteem.

Girls facing shame, fear and confusion around periods have this exacerbated when there is no clean source of water, soap, or safe, private girls’ toilet with space to wash in. 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 per cent.

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.

“This year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day theme, #NoMoreLimits, highlights how crucial it is to support women and girls break free from limits and reach their full potential. In order to do this, we must break the silence surrounding menstrual taboos, stigmatisation; and ensure that menstrual hygiene management is taken seriously and girls and women have the required resources to manage their menstruation with confidence and dignity”, the organisation noted.

Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, Dr. ChiChi Aniagolu-Okoye, said: “Menstrual hygiene management is not just about providing sanitary pads. It’s more than that. It’s about helping young girls and the people around them, including the men in their lives, to have the information awareness and the knowledge around this issue.

“It’s about helping girls to have the confidence to manage their hygiene safely and with dignity and also to ensure that wherever they are, provision is made for them to be able to manage their menstrual periods safely and hygienically and for the products to be collected and disposed effectively.

“Menstruation is not just a women’s issue; it is a topic that should affect everyone as unhygienic management of menstruation matters to all of society at large. It is crucial we promote and advocate for long-term hygiene behaviour change.

“Menstrual hygiene management is a human rights issue that matters to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals including the goals on health (3), education (4), gender equality (5), water and sanitation (6), economic growth (8) and sustainable consumption and production patterns (12).

“This Menstrual Hygiene Day, we amplify our call 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.”

“We are calling on Government and relevant stakeholders to support: The mobilising of resources to facilitate infrastructural improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools that will provide safe and private spaces for school girls to manage their periods hygienically”, the release stated.

WaterAid also advocated curriculum policy reforms that would ensure the continuing education of school girls on how to manage their menstruation safely.

It also sought the building the capacity of school teachers and other gatekeepers to provide quality and comprehensive education and appropriate support to girls in schools and in the wider community for managing their menstruation safely.

Menstrual Hygiene Day, marked on May 28 annually, was started by WASH United in 2014 to build awareness of the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management plays in helping women and girls reach their full potential.

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets.