Never before has the reproductive health and wellbeing of women and girls as a result of their menstrual blood, been such a hot topic for discussion.
Uganda has plucked her head out of the sand to finally acknowledge that since God made Eve, the female menstrual cycle has been part of every woman’s fibre, and that because of this important element being mostly mishandled, it is a concern for the education, health and economy of our country.
Research shows that only 35 percent of women and girls in the country practice healthy menstrual hygiene, leaving the 65 percent with high-risk poor hygiene.
There is still an astounding number of menstruating women that have never seen a disposable sanitary pad, let alone use one. Reports from rural areas have shown girls skip school for up to five days a month to “sit out” their menstruation period, while those who persevere and turn up for school use unhygienic things including banana fibres and shared clothes to pad themselves.
The poor hygiene practices are as a result of the high cost of disposable sanitary towels (the cheapest cost Shs 3,000), and the hard-to-clean reusable pads. As a result, some women and girls go an entire day without changing their disposable pads once, where available.
“The best pads every woman should use are the disposable pads but because they are expensive, sustainability becomes hard; that is why many people opt for the reusable pads. If they are washed well, dried and ironed, they can serve the right purpose,” Dr Edson Muhwezi, the assistant representative at United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said.
“Women who practice unhygienic practices are also vulnerable to infertility. Using unclean cloths during menstruation periods can introduce the growth of unwanted bacteria that could lead to infection - germs [thrive] in blood, studies shows.”
Muhwezi also said the public attaches many myths and taboos to menstruation, thus stigmatising women and causing them to lose self-esteem over a completely normal biological process.
Muhwezi urged women to observe proper hygienic practices during their periods because unhealthy practices cause fungal infections, reproductive tract infections (RTI) and urinary tract infections (UTI), some of which could also lead to cancer.
“[Also], sexually transmitted infections are higher during menstruation, because the blood coming out of the body creates a pathway for bacteria to travel back into the uterus and if medical attention is not sought in time, this can be deadly,” he said, in reference to couples that engage in sexual intercourse when the woman is having a menstrual period.
Studies show that women are more prone to sexually transmitted infections during their periods, because the cervix opens slightly during that time of the cycle; not to mention, viruses such as HIV thrive perfectly in bodily fluids, especially blood.
Sophia Grinvalds, the managing director, AFRI-pads Uganda, said the organization is offering tools in education on menstrual hygiene, monitoring and evolution.
“Ignoring good menstrual hygiene is not only damaging to women and girls, but the economy as well. Poor protection and inadequate washing facilities may increase susceptibility to infection. With the odour of menstrual blood putting girls at risk of being stigmatized, they skip going to school or doing anything productive,” Grinvalds said.
“Our menstrual kits have impacted a lot on the lives and menstrual hygiene of more than 1.4 million women and girls around the world since our inception in 2010,” she told The Observer.
Annabella Nakabiri, the executive director of Remnant Generation, sounded the reminder that menstruation is not a disease, but a natural process every woman should go through and a good sign that a woman is physically healthy.
“It is high time we started discussing menstruation openly and not shy away; let’s involve even the boys and men in our lives to help the girls/women deal with stigma,” she said. “Schools should add menstrual hygiene fees as one of the school requirements and menstrual hygiene should be part of the syllabus in schools.”
Nakabiri said in order to attain the universal access to free menstrual products in the country, it should be collective responsibility, and not government alone.
According a study done by SNV on menstrual hygiene in Uganda, around 3,000 days of menstruation occur in an average woman’s lifetime and most girls start menstruating from the age of 10 to 15 until their menopause from 40 to 50 years.
About 52 per cent of the female population is of reproductive age and most of them are menstruating every month. However, the majority of these women have no access to clean and safe sanitary products, or to a clean and private space in which to change menstrual cloths or pads and to freshen up.