This is an interview with the Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT) youth hub coordinator Ruvarashe Miti, who is based in Zimbabwe. SAT youth hubs are led by young people and are geared towards youth outreach, advocacy, and awareness activities around sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) issues.
Nsovo Mayimele: What does menstrual health mean to you?
Ruvarashe Miti: Menstruation is linked to puberty, depending on the individual it can begin from the age of ten and marks a transition towards becoming a woman. Menstrual health is about having the knowledge and information around menstruation so that a girl’s needs can be met e.g. having sanitary ware, safe changing rooms and an ability to seek support and speak openly about menstruation, which is widely perceived as a taboo topic.
NM: Why is menstrual health important?
RM: SAT’s Girl Plan programmes (which are also for boys) place menstrual health among its key themes for innovative models for strengthened SRHR interventions. The themes are: ending gender-based violence, keeping girls in safe schools, comprehensive sexuality knowledge, ending child marriage and menstrual health. Among its programme activities, SAT in Zimbabwe is working with a community-based organization called Chiedza to produce re-useable sanitary pads. The Youth Hub wholeheartedly support SAT’s efforts as menstrual health affects girls’ school attendance as well as their overall health and well-being, and not only during their period.
NM: Describe the communities you work in with the youth hub?
RM: The communities we live in today have strong existing beliefs on menstruation and so it can seem that there is limited space for change. There are many girls who come from families who are poor and unable to buy sanitary ware, some even use clothes when menstruating. Even if we do outreach around reusable sanitary ware or menstrual cups, it is not a given that the products will be used given power dynamics and existing traditions/ beliefs.
NM: Tell us about how you celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day 2017?
RM: SAT and the Youth Hub in Zimbabwe have been hosting weekly Menstrual Health Sessions to discuss various issues around menstrual health, like access to safe sanitary ware. The sessions culminated in an epic commemoration of Menstrual Hygiene Day 28 May with a Health Fitness session that reached out to communities around Harare.
NM: What are your goals for menstrual health, both in Zimbabwe and in Africa more widely?
RM: In Zimbabwe and Africa, every woman and girl should have adequate access to menstrual products and the necessary facilities e.g. clean water and changing facilities both at school and at home. No woman or girl should face any stigma – everyone deserves privacy and dignity.
NM: Who are your biggest supporters?
RM: The project is largely driven by youth and would not be possible without the many passionate volunteers that we have on board. Young people have already taken ownership of the project by organising outreach activities to three communities in Zimbabwe, and we have organised mass media campaigns too.
NM: What challenges do you face?
RM: The projects are largely driven by females, with little male involvement and even during outreach activities, few men attend the sessions. There is a need for more male involvement to counter the stigma and be part of the solutions.