Protect menstrual health needs during Covid-19 pandemic

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 00:00 |
Schoolgirls. Photo/Courtesy

Olajide Ademola and Janet Mbugua

Despite being an important issue concerning women and girls, Menstrual Health Management (MHM) is often overlooked within the framework of national development strategies and more so in pandemic response. 

Menstrual Health impacts directly on other issues such as access to education, food security, economic opportunities and reproductive health.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened inaccessibility to water, sanitation and hygienic menstrual products.  

These challenges are further augmented by an economic meltdown that has affected the populations in informal settlements with women losing their livelihoods that allow them to access necessities such as sanitary products. 

“Period poverty” is a reality for women and girls living in marginalised communities, emergency and humanitarian contexts, incarceration facilities, who have special needs or disabilities and/or facing other barriers.

With current restrictions to contain Covid-19, product availability for girls who rely on the government supplies distributed through the school system has been affected. 

The initial draft of the MHM Bill raised fears that groups of individuals who also needed to benefit from the service by the government would be left behind, as it provided only for girls who were already in school. 

It left out vulnerable groups that included girls who were out of school, women with disabilities, those in detention facilities and refugees.

In November 2019,  President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the inclusion concerns and approved a more inclusive MHM Policy. 

In order for the MHM Bill to be progressive and implemented successfully, a multi-stakeholder approach is key.

From media practitioners to academics, civil society, digital influencers, public servants and community leaders, it is crucial that all agencies band together to push for an approach that ends stigma and ensures access to period products.

It is a human right and failure to provide this access infringes on the rights of women and girls.

Menstruation is a normal biological process experienced by half of the world’s population for a significant part of their lives.

Menstruation is not just something mothers, sisters and their partners have to deal with once a month. It is at the very core of sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

Millions of women and girls struggle to manage their monthly menstruation safely, comfortably and with dignity.

Menstruating girls and women face inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities, while they may lack the most basic materials needed for managing blood flow, such as menstrual and other relevant hygiene products.

Privacy, in informal communities is often scarce, and when toilets are available, they often lack locks, functioning doors, lighting and separation by gender. 

It is imperative that girls and women are provided with the necessary information, resources and support to manage their menstrual needs.

However, menstrual health remains a silent issue locally, where (poor) access to menstrual health management is negatively influenced by social norms and hinders their daily activities, leads to stigma and discrimination, and has negative implications for their sexual and reproductive and mental health. 

Deliberate effort must be made during Covid-19 crisis to alleviate the impact of period poverty.

In Africa, efforts to improve policy dialogue, knowledge management, partnerships and coordination of menstrual health management across the continent are advancing, with some results being realised in countries such as Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe announcing the removal of Value Added Tax on menstrual products, and the adoption of national standards for menstrual products in Uganda and South Africa.

These actions ensure dignity for every woman and girl  and create an enabling environment to harness the optimal contribution of 50 per cent of the national human capital. — Dr Ademola is UNFPA Representative while Mbugua is a Gender Equality Champion and media personality with the Inua Dada Foundation

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