The Experience Of An Inexperienced Man: Looking Back on The Menstrual Hygiene Day Campaign, 2014

Written by Ephraim Kisangala

World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2014 was the first of its kind and celebrated by more than one hundred organisations world over. Being a member of Friends of IRISE-KIU Western Campus (FOI), I was privileged to have learnt about this subject prior to the day. We discussed in depth the issue of menstruation, activities we wanted for the day and also got training on making reusable sanitary pads.

I do not remember when I first knew that women menstruate, but I am pretty sure it was during one of the biology lessons in high school. The lessons were plain, explaining just the science and cycle and nothing more. Comments on painful periods, cultural practices, menstrual hygiene or management were almost unheard of in class.

The campaign started on a high note as the entire team was eager to engage in activities aimed at empowering and educating the community on breaking the silence around menstruation. The FOI team consisted of several other student bodies including Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations (FAMSA) and Kampala International University Students’ Academic Forum (KIUMSAF). The fear and the silence that usually surrounds the topic seemed to have been replaced by the concern for the poor girl who misses school, knows nothing about menstruation, and uses dirty rags, leaves, cotton or anything else they could find.

Image c/o Irise International
Image c/o Irise International

Despite this prior engagement with the issue of menstruation and all that I had learnt from being involved in Friends of IRISE, I was not prepared for all the lessons from Menstrual Hygiene Day. The FOI group started the preparation for the May 28th celebrations by engaging students on social media, creating school education programmes, making reusable pads, and hosting a community day complete with a school marching band.

As we embarked on the social media campaign on Facebook and WhatsApp, I did not expect to learn as much as I did. The responses to my posts, articles I read and activities in which I participated opened up a completely different dimension on the topic.

The first comment to strike me was asked by a female doctor in response to one of my Facebook posts:

“Ephraim, won’t you relent?”

This response triggered a memory of my mother’s experience of menstruation. Back when she was younger she suffered from menorrhagia and periods that were often irregular, heavy, very painful and scary. Not even medical workers understood her situation, thereby offering little support. She does not remember attending school during those awful days and always wished periods never existed.

Periods were literally a curse even when I was an adult working. Thank God, I am past that.” – My Mother

A friend also surprised me saying, “The only regret I have for being a woman is my period.” She had sought medical attention for the excessive bleeding during menstruation that was affecting her job and lifestyle.

In another article on www.mum.org, a disgusted lady wrote a letter to the manager of Always saying, “Are you kidding me? Does your brain really think happiness – actual smiling is possible during a menstrual period? Unless you are a freak.” She promised never to buy the Always pads because of the words, “Have a Happy Period” on its packaging.

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Image c/o Irise International

Back at the medical school, the WhatsApp chat page had only a few active females throughout the campaign. Meanwhile, the male students dominated the events and activities in preparation for Menstrual Hygiene Day. The organizing committee was also mainly male except for a handful of female students, including our fantastic chair Buddu Atwiine. The pupils in one of the primary schools were quite disappointed with the gender imbalance and even inquired why the males would go to teach menstrual hygiene without females.

After the fantastic day was over and I had some time to reflect, I began to feel that you can never truly comprehend the magnitude of challenges an African girl faces when it comes to menstruation, be it talk or the process, if you are not female.

At the end of the day, we in East Africa must come up with solutions for the following challenges:

  • The deeply rooted culture and taboos in Africa making talk about the menstruation difficult for everyone.
  • The stigma surrounding menstruation still keeps many females from disclosing their challenges that would otherwise be solved.

I believe menstruation is normal and every woman has the right experience her periods with dignity. I am hopeful we can achieve this in Africa and around the world.

 

 

ephraimEphraim is a final year medical student at Kampala International University (KIU) and is currently the President of the Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations (FAMSA). He is also involved in several other organisations in different capacities including Friends of IRISE KIU; Uganda Christian Medical Fellowship- Students’ Chapter; Bushenyi Integrated Rural Development (BIRD). He is also a member of the KIU-GRADUATE TRACKING TECHNICAL WORK GROUP supported by MEPI (Medical Education Partnership Initiative). He is very passionate about identifying ways in which medical students can act as key players in community transformation.

Menstruation and Me

Originally published on The Huffington Post

I have an interesting relationship with my period. I don’t have one.

Two years ago I changed my birth control method from the pill to an intrauterine device (IUD). What I learned afterwards is that losing your monthly visits from ‘Aunt Flo’ is a common side effect — a side effect that is now my reality.

But that wasn’t always the case.

elisabeth baby pic1I have been a late bloomer my entire life. I didn’t get my first tooth until I was 18 months old; I didn’t start my growth spurt until midway through high school; and, perhaps most shockingly, I didn’t get my first period until I was 17 years old.

Throughout my teen years, my friends found comfort in each other’s shared complaints over menstrual cramps, mood swings and menstrual-related fatigue. I listened to their stories, unaware of what menstruation actually felt like and unable to contribute to conversation. I was a silent outsider.

But then my period came. And it came with a vengeance.

Perhaps it was making up for lost time or perhaps it was inevitable, but I could finally relate to my friends’ period stories. In fact, my period-related complaints often sounded worse. As it turned out, I was not experiencing a ‘normal’ menstrual cycle.

I had menorrhagia.

Symptoms of menorrhagia include periods lasting longer than seven days (check!), painful menstrual cramps (check!), menstrual blood clots (check!), anemia or fatigue (check!), needing to wake up in the middle of the night to change a pad (check!) and bleeding through more than seven tampons or pads per day (check!). To give you a better idea of the magnitude of the situation, I bled through 12 pads in a single school day, changing pads at least once every 45 minutes.

I dreaded standing up, sitting down, shifting my weight, walking, running, taking deep breaths, sneezing, laughing, yawning and any other physical activity, no matter how small — not to mention going to school. I wondered if what I was experiencing was normal. Was this my life from now on? Strategically planning bathroom visits and shoving as many pads as possible into my purse in hopes they lasted the entire school day? Thankfully, no.

As terrifying, inconvenient and annoying as my experience with menorrhagia was, I was lucky. I had easy access to clean and functioning bathrooms and proper menstrual hygiene products. I had checkups with my family doctor and gynecologist. I had a supportive mother. And, eventually, I was able to morph my menstrual cycle into what is considered ‘normal’ by taking birth control pills.

Unfortunately, countless women and girls around the world cannot say the same.

Image c/o Stephan von Malortie
Image c/o Stephan von Malortie

In many areas that lack access to sanitary menstrual hygiene methods and safe toilets, a girl’s period means more than just puberty. Getting your period means sexual harassment and embarrassment; it means perceived ‘uncleanliness’; it means vaginal infections from using dirty rags as pads; it means dropping out of school.

As someone who struggled with menstruation, I deeply sympathize with those who lack the ability to take control of their menstrual cycles. To the women and girls around the world who suffer from menorrhagia, please know that you are not alone. To the courageous girls who refuse to let their periods interfere with their educations, please know that the world is in awe of your strength. To everyone reading this (men and boys included), please know that menstruation is a normal part of life and should not be a taboo or embarrassing topic.

Menstruation matters — and not just for women and girls. Improper menstruation management can negatively impact public health, the environment, girls’ education and economic development. Don’t you think it’s time we end the stigma?

28 Reasons Why Menstrual Hygiene Matters

Image c/o WASH United
Image c/o WASH United

This post was previously published on Buzzfeed.

Written by Elisabeth Epstein of Girls’ Globe and Danielle Keiser of WASH United.

We  all may know that menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle, but what some may not realize is that in many developing countries, the lack of information about menstrual hygiene, as well as materials themselves, creates a culture of taboos and misinformation about menstruation and potential health risks such as vaginal infections. Today, on the first annual International Menstrual Hygiene Day – the 28th of May, let’s start the conversation about menstruation with these 28 reasons why menstruation matters.

1. Educating girls about menstruation helps increase self esteem, raise grades and raise wages.

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Image c/o Giphy

2.  Learning about menstruation empowers girls to take care of themselves in brand new ways.

Knowing that their period is coming about every month gives girls a newfound and empowering sense of responsibility for their taking care of their bodies.

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Image c/o Giphy

3. It gives them the freedom to make their own decisions.

Learning and understanding what menstrual hygiene options exist for them gives girls the opportunity to choose what solution is best for them.

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Image c/o Giphy

4. It gives girls and women confidence to live their lives normally.

When they know that they have reliable and hygienic solutions to absorb or collect their menstrual flow, women and girls can do anything they normally would when they are not menstruating.

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Image c/o Giphy

5. It allows girls to be prepared for their first period.

Talking about menstrual hygiene before menarche (the first period) is very important for ensuring that girls know how to handle the often scary first period.

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6. Understanding how tampons, menstrual cups, or other sanitary materials work allows girls to explore their bodies in new and important ways.

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7. Proper menstrual hygiene keeps girls in school.

At least one in five girls drop out when periods begin. Those who persist typically miss five days of school each month due to inadequate menstrual protection.

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Image c/o Giphy

8.  Access to menstrual hygiene products keeps girls on the same track as their male peers.

Lack of modern sanitary products often leads to lower school attendance rates, failure and/or dropping out. When girls miss school they lose educational pace with boys, making them more vulnerable inside and outside of the classroom.

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9. Girls staying in school longer contributes to the economic empowerment of not only the woman, but also to the family, community and nation.

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10. It keeps women at work, contributing to economic development.

In Bangladesh, inadequate sanitation for women and girls is estimated to cost USD $ 21,750,000 due to absence from school and work.

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Image c/o Imgur

11. It helps confront myths and cultural superstitions.

Educating girls and women about feminine hygiene and biology helps to bust myths and cultural superstitions.  Access to correct information about hygiene and adequate sanitary materials enables women to feel more confident and comfortable with their bodies.

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Image c/o Giphy

12. Debunking myths and taboos can keep girls and women safe.

The tradition of chaupadi (the practice of forcing menstruating women and girls to spend days isolated in sheds) is dangerous for women and girls. In 2010, some women observing chaupadi reported being raped, while others died of snakebite, hypothermia and severe bleeding.

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Image c/o Giphy

13. It helps women realize that they are not impure.

In many traditional Hindu homes, menstruating women can’t perform religious rituals, touch idols, pray, visit temples, cook, serve food or touch drinking water because they are considered impure.

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Image c/o Giphy

14. Understanding menstruation helps women realize that they are not unclean.

Many traditional religions consider menstruation ritually unclean, however, when one has access to sanitation facilities and menstrual hygiene products, good hygiene is easy to maintain.  

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Image c/o Giphy

15. Correct information about menstrual hygiene fills in boys’ and men’s knowledge gaps, clearing up misconceptions they may have about menstrual blood. 

Desensitizing men and boys about menstruation leads to more open conversations and empathy. Since fathers are often the breadwinners, it is important to inform them about menstruation because they determine if funds are available to buy menstrual products.

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Image c/o Giphy

16. Educating men and boys about menstruation can help men develop higher levels of understanding of women and girls’ bodies and needs.

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17. Learning about menstrual hygiene management helps ensure cleanliness.

Knowing what product or material to use, how often to change it, and having access to WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities helps girls and women maintain good hygiene while menstruating.

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Image c/o Giphy

18. It helps keep Bacterial Vaginosis (bacterial vaginal infections) away.

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Image c/o Giphy

19.  It can help prevent girls and women from getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Women and girls who do not regularly change their tampon risk being infected by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. In rare cases, these bacteria lead to TSS, an infection that may result in shock, renal failure, or even death.

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Image c/o Giphy

20. It helps prevent skin irritations.

Wet pads that are not changed frequently can cause skin irritation which can then get infected if the skin becomes broken.

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Image c/o Giphy

21. It helps reduce the likelihood of getting cervical cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, India accounts for 27 percent of the world’s cervical cancer deaths. The incidence rate there is almost twice the global average and doctors studying the disease believe poor menstrual hygiene is partly to blame. The homespun solutions raise the risk of vaginal infections that suppress the reproductive tract’s natural defenses. A weaker immune response can compromise the body’s ability to fight the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, the microbial cause of most cervical cancers.

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22. Using reusable menstrual hygiene products like menstrual cups and reusable pads can help reduce waste in the environment.

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23. Reusable menstrual hygiene products can help reduce waste in the environment. (Yep, we said it again.)

It is estimated that nearly 20 billion pads and tampons are discarded every year in North America alone.

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24. Did we mention that reusable menstrual hygiene products can help reduce waste?

The average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of pads, plugs, and applicators in her lifetime. That sounds like a lot. But how much is 300 pounds in the grand scheme of things? Consider that the average American woman menstruates for 38 years—a period during which she can be expected to produce a grand total of 62,415 pounds of garbage.

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Image c/o HilariousGifs

25. No seriously, they can do wonders for the environment.

The plastics in a pad will take hundreds of years to decompose.

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Image c/o Giphy

26. Reusable menstrual hygiene methods can help keep the plumber away.

Incorrect disposal of used sanitary products can result in clogged toilets and breakdowns in sanitation systems.

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Image c/o 4Gifs

27. They can keep animals happy in their natural habitats.

The process of manufacturing disposable pads and tampons pollutes our waterways, air and animal habitats.

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Image c/o Ohmagif

28. When made affordable and accessible, reusable products can keep women and girls from having sex for pads.

Roughly half of all girls living in Kenyan slums have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins.

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Image c/o Giphy

Learn more about the importance of menstrual hygiene and discover how you can take action.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #MenstruationMatters and find events happening near you.

 

Three Innovative Approaches to Celebrating Menstrual Hygiene

Tomorrow is Menstrual Hygiene Day – a day to celebrate menstruation and to address the challenges that women and girls around the world face every month. Many live without ways to safely and effectively manage their periods; instead, they live with taboo, stigma and silence.

The good news is that there are people all over the world doing something about it! The Menstrual Hygiene Day coalition has over 125 partners working to break the silence, educate women and girls about their bodies, and provide innovative solutions for menstrual hygiene management. Their activities include producing reusable products; delivering kits; one-for-one exchange programs; advocacy and awareness-building; and integrated water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and menstrual hygiene programming.

Image c/o MITU Foundation
Image c/o MITU Foundation

Taboo Busters

Many of our partners are working to raise awareness and help women and girls manage a natural and healthy process. Groups like WASH United, MITU Foundation and “Stigma Stopper” Lorrie Lynn King of 50 Cents.Period. are bringing global attention to the basic needs for menstrual management, as well as highlighting solutions. Their bold voices are essential to this movement.

Social Entrepreneurship and Business

Without access to affordable sanitary products, women and girls use unhygienic materials like newspapers and old rags. Social entrepreneurs are filling the market with innovative, sustainable and eco-friendly products. A businessman named Arunachalam Muruganantham is empowering rural women in India through sanitary pad production, delivery, and education schemes. He is the subject of the new documentary, Menstrual Man.

Businesses are partnering to ensure products are available for those who need them. Groups like Auntie Daisy, Cora, and Thinx offer one-for-one exchange programs. For every sale of their product, an equivalent is given to women and girls in developing countries. AFRIpads’ exchange program is done in conjunction with the eco-friendly Lunapads, whose Co-Founder Madeleine Shaw spearheads G Day, a new social movement to empower girls as they transition into adolescence.

In another eco-friendly approach to pads and tampons, groups like Ruby Cup, DivaCup, and Lunette produce reusable menstrual cups. New initiatives like Helloflo offer innovative monthly subscription services for menstrual management; their “Camp Gyno” commercial will certainly make you smile.

Integration

Access to clean water, soap, and a private place to go to the bathroom are all critical to effective menstrual hygiene management. Many terrific organizations are integrating WASH and menstrual hygiene solutions in schools, homes, and places of employment. WaterAid, SNV Netherlands Development Organization, Plan International, PATH, Save the Children, the UNICEF-led WASH in Schools Partnership, and the United States Agency for International Development are some examples.

These are some of the many wonderful groups working to help women and girls manage their periods, stay in school, and generate income. When they thrive, so do their families and communities.

Join the movement! Take action tomorrow and help strengthen this important conversation.

Rebecca Fishman and Jordan Teague focus on the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene to the health, education, empowerment, and safety of women and children for WASH Advocates.

Cover image c/o LunaPads & AFRIpads