Putting menstrual hygiene management on the agenda of West and Central Africa WASH experts and decision makers

Date: 18th September 2013

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Since 2012, WSSCC’s work with the important emerging issue of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has focused on South Asia, but beginning with a 13-14 September 2013 workshop in Dakar, Senegal, this effort is now being broadened to West Africa.

Nearly 70 West and Central African professionals from different professions – water, sanitation, health, education, advocacy and public policy – participated in a WSSCC-led regional workshop in the Senegalese capital on equity and inclusion with a particular focus on MHM. The workshop followed an AfricaSan sub-regional preparatory meeting for West Africa.

The workshop enabled participants to understand more deeply the cross-cutting nature of menstrual hygiene management. It is an issue with strong social, psychological and gender aspects, as well as design, service delivery, supply, construction and management considerations.

WSSCC Programme Manager and equity expert Archana Patkar talks about the “taboo” nature menstrual hygiene management, and the importance of breaking the silence around the issue. “It is important to speak about the natural phenomenon of menstrual hygiene, particularly with young girls, before menstruation first occurs,” she said. “This helps them prepare for the upcoming physical changes to their bodies and starts a dialogue around the topic.”

Further, participants learned that menstrual hygiene management is, more broadly, a key entry point to highlight and demonstrate the importance of equity and inclusion during the design and construction of water and sanitation facilities. MHM takes into consideration the differences of weight, age, and, more specifically, the sex of the users of such facilities. In addition to enlarging the access and use of services to women, the concept also aims at ensuring a better education of women and girls on their menstrual cycle as well as on their sexual and reproductive health.

Participants’ own experiences tell the story
The workshop participants were qualified and competent professionals who also had first-hand experiences with the issue. Indeed, 70% of women from West and Central Africa at the workshop said their first periods came as a surprise and offered unforgettable – and scary – experiences. One participant said: “The first day I had my period I went to see my dad, who opened my loincloth, and I told him: ‘See, I am dying.’` He told me not to worry, that I am just growing up. He took me to my mum and told her: ‘Pease take care of her.’” 

Another participant, a male said: “When I was a little boy, we knew when girls had their periods because they were not allowed to go to the watering place.”

Moving beyond these memories and emotions, presenters at the workshop talked about how to address the issue in the 21st century. They described how women and girls from urban, peri urban and rural areas need access to facilities and sanitary materials that are safe for, and protective of, their sexual and reproductive health. In this regard, breaking the silence is an important first step for allowing girls and women to equip themselves, to choose and to prepare their sanitary materials, and to wash and dry properly their products. Breaking the silence will also start introducing menstrual hygiene management into the overall planning process, so that women are provided with specific areas which are clean and equipped to manage their menstrual hygiene properly.

In this way, menstrual waste will also be properly managed and eliminated without any risk for the environment. For all these reasons, in addition to the WASH sector, WSSCC’s MHM programming is implemented in collaboration with the education, health and environment sector organizations and individuals.

Participants in Dakar expressed the desire to see the MHM programming implemented in their different countries in order to prevent infections due to bad menstrual hygiene management, to guarantee girls attendance at school and to reduce undesired pregnancies.

To learn more about Menstrual Hygiene Management, visit our dedicated page here.

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