by Maria J. Rodriguez-Ferreño
On July 12th, Kota had the privilege to participate in another official UN side event as part of the series of events for High-Level Political Forum Agenda Global Goals for 2030 (for more information about this series of events, please click HERE).
This time the theme was Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and how factors such as water, sanitation and gender equality influence it. The positive results of these interactions bring us all closer to the achievement of the Global Goals and their 2030 agenda. Every day, 800 million women and girls menstruate. Yet menstrual health and hygiene features in few national policies, donor pledges, or global agendas. Menstrual health and hygiene require a rights-based approach to meeting basic information, infrastructure, and supply needs. More than that, it requires us to take collective action to end period stigma. The Kota Alliance has advocated for this women issue recently when co-organizing an event about it (to learn more, please click here: https://bit.ly/2OU79ke ) and the article written about what the issue is and what is entitled in it (to learn more, please click here: https://bit.ly/2AQFqxG ).
The event panelists were:
Chantal Marijnissen (Head of Unit for Environment, Natural Resources, Water, DG International Cooperation and The European Commission)
Nirmal Raj Kafle (Deputy Permanent Representative, Mission of Nepal to the UN)
Elizabeth Okumu (Program Manager, Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, Kenya)
Manuela Pinilla (Country Director, WaterAid Colombia)
The event moderator was:
Shannon Kowalski (Director of Advocacy and Policy, International Women's Health Coalition -IWHC-)
One of the top factors negatively affecting menstrual health and its management is lack of education. An alarming 70 percent of girls in India do not know what happens the first time they menstruate and how or why their bodies are undergoing that process. Inevitably, this is the beginning of an endless cycle of poverty for these girls as there will be many significant defining consequences of this life changing event. As Chantal Marijnissen said: Today, approximately 800 million women and girls menstruated, sadly many of them will lose their dignity to the eyes of their community due to the lack of menstrual hygiene education in general. For instance, girls miss school, and therefore their overall education, because they have no products to use during these days. Additionally, girls are considered adult once they menstruate for the first time, and hence this increases their chances to be forced into marriage and consequently have early pregnancies. In order to reverse this reality, more women are needed within the decision-making process”.
According to Manuela Pinilla, once a girl starts menstruating in the rural areas of Colombia, she is hidden for long periods of time (up to two weeks even) because culturally she is associated with spirits and in a culture with deep ancestral roots, this is particularly dangerous as a girl may even be killed for this belief. Also, in Colombia, she said that menstrual hygiene is not part of the curriculum at school, they only address menstruation as a biological process for women and girls. This exclusion is what leads to a continuation of these harmful traditional cultural practices. Dismissing menstruation and menstrual hygiene from educational processes, only continues the lack of political interest in the society, and thus the creation of reassuring and protective policies for girls and women.
Elizabeth Okumu, a women and girls/community advocate and insider, has seen it all when it comes to menstruating and the lack of education, awareness and empowerment for the women and girls of the community. She explained that the stigma of menstruating and its consequences are so deep and shameful that many girls and young women would rather be pregnant than menstruating due to the fact that for nine months they will not have to go through the embarrassment, shame and social punishment they live when they have their periods. For nine months they are free to be! She also remembered vividly her mother’s words the day she got her period for the first time: “You will play with boys no more”. Her mother’s warning speaks of the additional cultural burden of menstruating, which is that a girl is no longer a child and thus enjoying of the freedom of expression and of socializing with whoever she wants to. From that point on, a girl is subject to her sexuality and the dangers and risks associated with it. By all means, mothers seek to protect their children and thus Okumu’s mother’s warning.
The panelists, based on their local and foreign experiences, made some recommendations for governments, agencies and organizations in general:
- To continue having informative panels and conversations like that of the event to spread awareness and consciousness
- To actually follow through with the suggestions and policies mentioned in reports
- To add and include menstrual hygiene policies to school curriculums and to sexual and reproductive programs
- To involve all actors in the creation and advancement of pertaining policies
- To ask the local communities for solutions to their issues
- To require schools and public service facilities to allow women to use their resources for the purpose of menstrual hygiene
- To actually include women in the decision-making process
- To create substantial, inclusive and comprehensive sexual education programs and curriculums
- To destigmatize menstruation from cultural myths and others and present it as the normal human cycle that it is
- To implement unrestricted access to hygienic products
Participating in panels and discussion tables like this one is not only informative but eye-opening for us because we get to learn that despite the geographic distances, all humans share the same experiences. This is especially true for girls and women. It seems as if women are condemned to always suffer more and pay consequences for things inherent to their female nature.
At The Kota Alliance, we strive every day to spread consciousness and calls to action to alleviate women issues. Menstrual hygiene management has been part of our agenda in the past and more can be found here: https://bit.ly/2AQFqxG