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By Francesca Nava
DODOMA, Tanzania – Hygiene practitioners, boys and girls, humanitarian workers, government officials and parliamentarians are joining forces to raise a unified voice on menstruation. Flexing their muscles in a group photo, they emphasized that everyone, including government officials, sanitary pads suppliers and family members especially men, should be involved in actions to break the silence on menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
As part of this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day celebrations in Dodoma including a ceremony, panel discussions and training sessions, Ms Severine Allute from the MHM Coalition said on 28 May that collaboration is key to ensuring that menstruation is considered normal and is managed with dignity.
According to Ms Allute, menstruation remains a secretive subject in Tanzania. Abuse, fear and lack of knowledge contribute to girls’ school absence and cause frustration.
Breaking the silence at the Morena Hotel Dodoma, Intisar Ahmed, a secondary student, told attendees that the lack of menstrual and reproductive health education in the country also results in the perpetuation of dangerous myths and taboos.
“The first time I [menstruated]…I was swimming and suddenly saw blood in the water, so I went to the toilet, it was blood, I took exercise papers and covered myself. For more than three days I used papers as pads,” Intisar bravely said. “In my mind I grow up knowing that, if someone starts [menstruating that they] will go to hell, and those who will not menstruate will go to heaven.”
Intisar showcased the importance of trainings on MHM and the need for multiple actors to be included in a “take action” process.
Mr Honest Anicetus from the Ministry of Health said that men are equally responsible when it comes to women’s access to safe and affordable menstrual services and Menstrual Hygiene day means targeting everyone in the community.
In addition, a representative from Mbeya District council stressed that education at home is a crucial part of MHM improvement and contributes to a shift in societal behaviours.
Other key issues included the MHM supply chain as the well-being of menstruators is related to “product availability, accessibility, affordability and quality”.
Honorable Ummy Mwalimu, Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, said,
"We will work together hand to hand to commemorate this day to achieve our goal. Next year, I will make sure that every council will look on how they will commemorate this day.”
“Because our aims is to find solutions and address menstrual hygiene challenges that face women and girls in our country in getting access to safe water, and good MHM services including improved toilets in schools, availability of special room for girls for MH issues, special places for hand washing as well as menstrual product tools. Menstruation is unavoidable, it is natural,” she said.
Source material courtesy Hildegade Mashauri and Severine Allute. Photos courtesy UNFPA