When I told my
friends about painful menstrual periods, one of them said if I had sexual intercourse with a man, the pain will go but I didn’t, Ada Solomon, a 14-year old recluse student of a junior secondary school in Abuja, silently shares her standpoint.
In a related incident, another pupil, Sarah Audu, recalls: “When I was nine years old, living with my father and my step-mother, I went to a nearby bush to urinate when I noticed some bloodstains in-between my legs.
“I ran to tell my father that I had been injured, maybe with a stick while urinating, but my father exclaimed, telling me I have become a woman and my step-mother gave me a piece of cloth as sanitary pads.
“Because nobody has told me more about menstruation, later, when I was 12 years old, I was returning from school when a male classmate saw bloodstains on my uniform and he called my attention in the public; embarrassing me.
“Students made mockery of me that I have started doing funny things around and that was why bloodstains were on my uniform; so, I didn’t go to school for a week.’’
Audu’s experience is enough a reason why teenage girls ought to know much about sex education, their physical development inclusive.
Medical experts note that many girls will have irregular menstrual periods up to the first two years after the first one, known as menarche, because they are still growing.
According to them, a menstrual cycle is considered the time from the first day of bleeding one month to the first day of bleeding the following month — lasting between 21 and 34 days.
They also observe that girls will begin to see changes to their bodies between the ages of eight and 13 years, growing the breasts or breast buds.
Once the girls begin menstruation, they are subjected to some erroneous beliefs in some communities, resulting in keeping silent among those of them that experience the first menstruation and who seek wrong directives.
For instance, in Nepal, many women in their menstrual periods die from suffocation arising from smoke of fireworks they made while they sleep outside their home to avoid cold.
The practice, called “chaupadi’’, is linked to Hindu beliefs around religious purity and the idea that menstruation is spiritually polluting.
Also, in some countries, a woman who is menstruating is advised to avoid temples, prayer rooms and, sometimes, kitchens.
Misconceptions such as you don’t cradle babies or you will cause them to get sick, you need to wash your sanitary pads before throwing them out to prevent ghosts from chasing you, are also rife in some climes.
Analysts note that in some rural communities in Nigeria, menstruation is often perceived as dirty and shameful.
In that case, men and women may maintain separate quarters while a woman is menstruating, while some women may not be able to wash their pads publicly or dispose of them for fear of being attacked by witchcraft activities that the communities have made them to believe.
Further to this, WaterAid Nigeria says the state of menstrual hygiene in schools shows that there exist many barriers for girls; the most glaring of all is the lack of water and sanitation in the schools.
It notes that in many of the schools, the girls miss school on the first day of their period because there are no hygiene facilities such as water, bathrooms or soap available for personal cleaning, while proper disposal of used sanitary pads is not as easy as it ought to be.
In an attempt to address some of the challenges associated with girls’ reproductive health, the United Nations Council on Human Rights passed a resolution urging all countries to take decisive action to ensure that women and girls have universal access to information on menstrual products and facilities.
In accordance with this, Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) champion, Olufemi Aluko, calls for the need to push for concrete actions that could influence the perception of policy makers on MHM.
He notes that students, who ought to be champions, have been quiet for so long while multitudes abstain from school and drop out of school due to lack of MHM facilities and stigma in the school environment.
“When you visit those rural communities and ask questions about education and MHM, you will then realise the burden of menstrual hygiene mismanagement and lack of awareness by parents and guardians,’’ he says.
But Mr Job Ominyi, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), says no fewer than 25 women have been trained in the production of re-usable sanitary pads to improve women and girls’ health in Malumfashi Local Government of Katsina State, recently.
“This became necessary following the outcome of a research in 2015 among the three major ethnic groups and observing that there was poor knowledge, attitude and practice on MHM in parts of the country,’’ he says.
In her opinion, Mrs Christiana Oliko, from the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Abuja, says institutionalising MHM into policies and programmes of government will change the narrative on poor menstrual health.
She observes that some countries have started to develop programmes and integrate menstrual hygiene management in their policies.
Besides this, Mr Daniel Iroegbu, convener of “Period Matters Project,’’ underscores the need for advocacy, capacity-building and involvement of stakeholders to dispel the stereotype around menstruation and sexuality.
“The government, institutions and organisations should provide functional sanitary facilities — adequate water for wash-up and efficient waste disposal facility — in schools and workplaces to enable girls and young women to effectively manage their menstruation in privacy with respect and dignity,’’ he advises.
Observance of Menstrual Hygiene Day on every May 28, initiated in 2014 by WASH, a German-based non-governmental organisation, symbolises the average length of the menstrual cycle –28 days — and May the fifth month of the year, indicates the average days that menstruation can last.
In her advice, Dr Michelle Truong, programme associate, International Women’s Health Coalition prescribes enhancing access to high-quality comprehensive sexuality education for expanding girls’ knowledge of menstruation and their capacity to deal with it.
According to her, sexuality education that includes discussions of puberty and menstruation and that tackles gender issues will bring about what adolescent girls need to grow up in an environment where menstruation is seen as something healthy and normal.
Kolade writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.