Breaking boundaries: promoting menstrual hygiene management in rural Tanzania

28th May 2018

Menstruation is often considered a taboo subject in rural Tanzania. This prevents open discussion about it, even between females. Girls can feel scared and isolated, often fearing they are ill or dying. Outdated myths are common in these communities, like the myth that if girls walk past men whilst menstruating they can get pregnant, or that their menstrual stomach cramps will stop if they get married or pregnant. Young girls hide their periods from male family members and most mothers feel uncomfortable discussing the subject, because of their lack of education on the normality of menstruation.

On average, girls in rural Tanzania miss five days of school a month during their periods. They do this to avoid the embarrassment of their male classmates teasing them about stains on their skirts, or to simply just avoid feeling uncomfortable in class because they don’t have the knowledge to manage their periods hygienically. Raleigh Tanzania found that 95% of women in the Mageseni community felt that talking to girls about menstrual hygiene management would increase school attendance.

We planned and delivered the first menstrual hygiene management lesson in Mageseni. We knew we had to plan it very carefully as, although the parents had given us permission to teach this topic, we did not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. We were able to make girls feel at ease, reassuring them that this is natural for all women and even shared our own experiences of starting our periods with them. We finished the class with a huge smile of achievement on our faces.

Our team delivered six menstrual hygiene management lessons during our time in the community, aiming to reduce the negative cultural stigma and myths that surround menstruation. During these lessons we discussed puberty and the menstrual cycle, how to manage pain and PMS, cleanliness and sanitary options and products available to them in the village.

We’ve also been working with a local builder to construct a new toilet block at the school with a dedicated menstrual hygiene management room. This room has a toilet, washing facilities and an incinerator, which will give girls the privacy to hygienically manage their periods without fear and embarrassment. We discussed the importance of operation and maintenance with students and village stakeholders to ensure that the room will be used and sustained correctly. We want to leave this village allowing young girls to feel empowered in their bodies as they grow into strong, confident women.

I feel incredibly honoured to be able to teach menstruation and menstrual hygiene management to the young female generation of Mageseni. I felt particularly proud to be teaching this topic as the barriers to knowledge and openly talking about the subject is really harmful to girls. To be part of this incredible aspect of the WASH project, which will actively enhance the lives of not only the children, but the dadas, mamas and other female relatives is a wonderfully invaluable experience. My team and I are so humbled to be the driving force behind a positive behavioural change in Mageseni.

This project has made me realise that we still have a long way to go to achieving the global goals, but just one lesson can make such a huge difference to one family and this reinforces the fact that as active global citizens, we have the responsibility and the power to abolish the imbalance of equality that is prevalent in societies all over the world.

28th May is Menstrual Hygiene Day – raising awareness of the challenges women and girls worldwide face due to their menstruation and highlighting solutions that address these challenges.

#NoMoreLimits

Written by Hannah Ustel and Mica Lam

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