Women's Health Network promotes menstrual hygiene for women & girlsMonday, June 14, 2021
SAVANNAH SCULLY & DR RUDOLPH STEVENS
MENSTRUAL hygiene refers to the ability of women and girls to care for themselves in a clean, private and safe environment with adequate access to menstrual products or materials that are appropriate and safe for their needs. Women and girls should also be able to change these products in private as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation, while also having access to facilities to dispose of the used menstrual material. In order to achieve this, the facilities must be clean and safe and with running water, soap and toilet paper to allow the woman and girl to clean themselves following a change.
Friday, May 28 was Menstrual Hygiene Day, an internationally observed awareness day that aimed to bring together the voices and actions of individuals and communities to promote good menstrual health and hygiene for all women and girls. It served to raise awareness and rid the stigma associated with menstrual hygiene. First celebrated in 2014 and initiated by a German non-profit organisation WASH United in 2013, it focuses on challenges in education and advocacy towards making the world a place where all people can benefit from safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, including menstrual hygiene. This is coordinated globally on Menstrual Hygiene Day.
It is important to recognise World Menstrual Hygiene Day as it allows for the celebration of the facts surrounding menstruation rather than the taboos, as well as to provide the opportunity to promote education for women and men to break the stigma surrounding menstruation and galvanise support for underserved communities where this physiologic functioning of women and girls may be a monthly financial burden (period poverty). Prior to World Menstrual Hygiene Day, Women's Health Network (WHN) interviewed a few young women and confirmed that sometimes there are challenges in obtaining sanitary products to safely care for themselves. We also learnt that sometimes girls resort to the use of the 'hand tissue paper' they receive with the box lunches they purchase. They would collect, store and repurpose these in case they run out of disposable sanitary pads. Some also relied on their boyfriends to purchase disposable sanitary pads for them.
World Menstrual Hygiene Day gave us at WHN-Jamaica the opportunity to look at menstrual hygiene through the lens of girls and young women, especially those residing in underserved communities such as the incarcerated. It gave us a forum to highlight that poor menstrual hygiene occurs as a result of a lack of education on the issue, lingering taboos and stigma, unavailable menstrual hygiene facilities, having limited access to menstrual hygiene products and poor safe water and sanitation systems which threaten educational and occupational opportunities, and the health of women and girls, especially in poor communities. It allowed us also to highlight the effects on girls' education and self-esteem, as many girls will miss school during their menses; as well as to encourage schools, workplaces and communities to ensure that basic and safe facilities are available for girls and women to use and these facilities are maintained in good condition.
On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, we supported and strengthened two underserved communities where incarcerated girls and women live; namely the Homestead Place of Safety in Stony Hill and Fort Augusta Women's Correctional Facility, which is hosted on South Camp Road, by handing out menstrual hygiene kits. The kits will allow women and girls to better able to care for themselves. The kits included disposable sanitary pads, panties, bath soap, laundry soap, washcloths and toilet paper. Some kits had added items such as deodorants, perfume spray, toothpaste and wet wipes. There was an educational session with the girls that took the form of a PowerPoint presentation, demonstration of the various menstrual products available in Jamaica, followed by a question and answer segment. The women and girls had the opportunity to clarify their own understanding and were shown new skills relating to taking care of their menses.
Dr Dasima Martin, who led the WHN team, remarked that “the team was able to demystify the menses and debunk cultural taboos and misconceptions surrounding menstruation”. The interaction with the girls was high spirited and ended with a quiz to assess whether learning had taken place.
WHN Jamaica will continue to advocate for the support of women and girls as they should feel empowered to manage their menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame, where there is always access to menstrual products of their choice, sanitation and hygiene facilities. This would, hopefully, result in the eradication of period stigma.
Savannah Scully is a medical student and volunteer, and Dr Rudolph Stevens is the executive director, Women's Health Network – Jamaica.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login