May 28th is the date chosen by the international community to celebrate a day devoted to menstrual hygiene. All over the world, more precisely in developing countries, women and girls (and men and boys) have never learned about the topic of menstruation. Women and girls, in these developing countries, often confront their periods with fear; it feels disturbing, even creating trauma, when the blood starts flowing. Due to the lack of knowledge, combined with a misunderstood and shameful stigma, it is typical that menstrual cycles are not managed hygienically, resulting in chronic vaginal infections for girls and women.
In developing countries, the beginning of menstruation for girls typically means a loss of days in school. The girls do not have a means to manage their menstrual cycle at school. They may misunderstand their cycle and won’t go to school because they believe they are sick. The result is a negative impact on their school performance, their long-term education, and their future.
International Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD), initiated in 2014, focuses on breaking the silence and shame associated with menstruation and empowering females (and males) with education. Events promote the dissemination of information (among boys and girls, men and women) to create community conversations and educational sessions regarding healthy, hygienic practices and a comprehensive understanding of the purpose and power of the female menstrual cycle.
Pure Water for the World began integrating the topic of healthy menstrual hygiene management in our hygiene and sanitation training programs in 2015. The program has evolved significantly, focused on empowering females and males with knowledge about this critical topic. The training programs have resulted in very positive feedback and results from communities served.
This year, the PWW teams in Haiti and Honduras held comprehensive training programs to celebrate MHD. The MHD theme for 2018 was”No More Limits.”
In Haiti, the PWW team created a sub-theme: “Ann kraze tout prejije sous reg fanm” (“We’ll crush all prejudice on menstruation”). Haiti, with a country of nearly 11 million people (5.6+ million women), is plagued by a health system whose lack of information and inaccessibility to care creates major challenges. Among these challenges, is the topic of safe and healthy menstrual hygiene management.
To honor MHD and promote educational empowerment, the PWW WASH Training and Consulting team in Haiti carried out an awareness-raising activity with the students of the Community School of Bois d’Elance in Limonade, Haiti, where we have been working on a sanitation rehabilitation project.
To set the mood for the day, the PWW team decorated the school classrooms with awareness messages and balloons bearing the official color of the day…pink. It was festive and fun and quickly engaged the students. The celebration was launched with the official opening of the new toilets at the school.
For the day’s lessons, girls and boys were separated into two groups to better facilitate supportive environments for learning. Thirty three female students, ages 9 to 17, and 47 male students, ages 10 to 17 years, participated, along with their teachers.
The training for the girls included:
- History of Menstrual Hygiene Day.
- Introduction to female puberty, including physical transformation from childhood to the age of puberty.
- Menstrual cycle process (diagram and explanation).
- Symptom of a menstrual cycle.
- Materials to use to manage blood flow; included presentation and discussion about the use of different types of sanitary napkins and practice with underwear.
Our training team initially felt the shame, among the students, associated with talking about this “taboo” subject. To overcome this, girls were led in an interactive activity of drawing female bodies, using the drawings to understand the stages of puberty. The exercise allowed the female students to visibly see physical changes. Teacher, Mrs. Ella, worked with the PWW team to create a safe and comfortable environment for the girls, and, very quickly, the climate shifted to one of enthusiastic learning.
Experiences of first periods were shared, with some religious beliefs and mother/grandmother councils surfacing. Girls learned that the menstrual cycle is an assurance of good health, to be celebrated rather than shamed.
The application of hygienic principles, demonstrating the use of industrial and temporary sanitation napkins, was taught, as well as instruction regarding reusable fabrics, and the proper washing and drying of them. Products were distributed to the girls.
To close the training session, the PWW team answered questions asked by the girls (i.e. Why do boys not have blood? Will my period stop one day?). Finally, students were asked questions to verify what they had learned about menstruation and the importance of good hygiene behaviors.
- History of MHD.
- Physical transformation from childhood to puberty in boys and girls.
- Introduction to puberty in boys, including changes in body and behaviors.
- Introduction of menstruation in females, including the different types of sanitary products used for menstruation.
- Discussions about healthy behavior choices with girls.
The boys were immediately astonished to hear about a celebration for periods! To create engagement during the learning process, a sanitary napkin was passed around the room. They had to say what they thought it was and what it is used for. Some students said they have seen one in their home; some had never seen one; others had seen them in garbage and toilets. The more the discussion continued, the more the boys were excited to learn.
It was explained that, for girls, the puberty cycle is different and a discussion ensued about menstruation, including how to behave with girls during their cycle (i.e. support girls; never insult or bully them; and encourage them not to miss school). It was explained that menstruation is not a disease or an illness, but a natural process for females. It was also discussed that once this cycle begins, a female can become pregnant.
The PWW team closed the conversation answering questions from the boys (i.e. Can we sit next to a girl with blood?). The team then summarized the lessons taught, reinforcing the messages.
The day was a huge success. School officials were grateful because it was the first time that the school enjoyed a celebration of this nature. School leaders thanked PWW and invited the team back for future opportunities.
In Honduras, where the team has been integrating menstrual hygiene management training into hygiene training programs for several years, programs to teach about menstrual hygiene and celebrate MHD 2018 took place for more than a week.
Honduras teachers who have already received the “WASH integration in school classes” training celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day simultaneously at their schools. Teachers prepared the event in their own personal way, with all of them teaching about the menstrual cycle and preparing re-useable sanitary pads. Boys and girls, and, in some cases, mothers and fathers, participated in the learning activities. Colorful, detailed posters were made by teachers and students. Demonstrations were conducted. Healthy hygiene practices were reenforced.
In the town of Trojes, 1,000 reusable sanitary pads and 5,544 disposable sanitary napkins were distributed among 15 schools to mothers and girls. Teachers were also given sanitary pads to store at their schools for “red emergencies.”
Karla Vargas, PWW Honduras’ health promotor, went to Carlos Roberto Reina School, in Trojes, to celebrate the day with the teachers, students and families. Karla engaged the community in a discussion about physical changes during puberty and the importance of hygiene. She demonstrated how to place the sanitary napkins and how to wash the reusable pads. She was also very serious about teenage pregnancy, teaching them that just because a girl has her first period and can get pregnant, does not mean she is ready to be a mother.
In the region of La Mosquitia, about 200 people in the local community of Suhi participated a march. A doctor then shared a presentation about menstruation among the parents, 209 students, and eight teachers. In the community of Chino Tatallon, 400 students and 14 teachers participated in a comprehensive educational event about menstruation.
It was a very successful day across the communities in which PWW works in Honduras, with positive reinforcement of previously taught practices for safe and healthy menstrual hygiene management.
- Women are managing their own cycles and are empowered to teach their children about menstruation, removing fear and shame and supporting healthy hygiene practices;
- Fathers have a better understanding about what their daughters and wives experience and how to better support them;
- Girls have the knowledge to safely manage their menstrual cycles and are able to attend school all month long; and,
- Boys have learned the natural processes that happen in female bodies.
Education is providing a means to break down the stigma of shame and open the doors so there can, indeed, be No More Limits!
To learn more about MHD, visit the official website at: http://menstrualhygieneday.org/.