Starting the conversation in West and Central Africa

Date: 20th June 2014

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Credit: WSSCC/UN Women/Javier Acebal

WSSCC and UN Women began active implementation of their new partnership when over 600 young women and girls from the Louga region of Senegal were surveyed about their menstrual hygiene knowledge, attitudes and practices  from 13 to 15 June 2014. The community-level discussions in Louga, Linguère and Kébémer were the first activity in the joint “Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation” programme. This multi-year partnership aims to take action and to strengthen policies in health, hygiene and sanitation in order to contribute to improving economic and social living conditions for women and girls in West and Central Africa.

The community-level work enabled WSSCC and UN Women to begin collecting baseline data on the level of understanding about menstrual hygiene management in West and Central Africa. WSSCC and UN Women received the strong support from the Senegalese Minister of Livestock Production and Mayor of Louga, Mrs Aminata Mbengue Ndiaye, who visited the “Menstrual Hygiene Management Lab” where the surveys were conducted on Sunday 15 June. The lab provides a safe space where women and young girls can talk openly about menstrual hygiene.

“This is an excellent initiative, and the programme is filling a real need. It is important to develop it and build on these actions”, Mrs Ndiaye said.

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Credit: WSSCC/UN Women/Javier Acebal

In advance of the field work, 31 local community workers, NGO representatives and others received training in the pedagogy of menstrual hygiene management in order to lead discussion groups in their communities. The participants expressed a strong desire to be equipped with practical knowledge, and the training was judged “rich in experience, an action to be welcomed and repeated. We liked the tools”, said one participant.

“In the lab tent, after initial shyness because of the sensitive nature of the topic, the  girls and women saw their curiosity take over once they felt comfortable in an environment where the veil of taboo is lifted,” said Ms. Archana Patkar, WSSCC Programme Manager for Networking and Knowledge Management. She and Ms. Rockaya Aidara, Programme Officer for Advocacy and Communication, participated in the work together with UN Women colleagues.  “They nearly all reported that the onset of menstruation came as a surprise, an event to be hidden. Just as in other developing countries, the monthly management of menstruation here is wrapped up in taboos and superstitions that make menstruation difficult to manage with openness and safety.”

People with physical and visual disabilities told WSSCC and UN Women how hard it was to find appropriate information and services to meet their needs. Thus, everyone agreed that breaking the silence was a decisive step making it possible to open up many other doors, issues and opportunities, and claim appropriate WASH services.

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Credit: WSSCC/UN Women/Javier Acebal

This is the first phase in the programme and the start of a long journey, added Ms. Aidara. “Hygiene management is a way to demonstrating the gender specific needs of women and girls,” she said. The joint “Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation” programme aims to move policies and practice forward towards fairness and the human right to water and sanitation.

WSSCC and UN Women issue a quarterly newsletter on the programme. To be added to the mailing list, please send a request to Ms. Aidara at rockaya.aidara@wsscc.org.

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