Globally, approximately 52% of the female population (26% of the total population) is of reproductive age. Most of these women and girls will menstruate each month for between two and seven days. There is a prominent need to have menstrual management as a priority in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in schools. This seems to be relegated at the expense of water and toilets.
Girls’ absence from school has both physical and psychological reasons which range from lack of menstrual hygiene management provision to menstrual pain. Once they are at home they often do not want to go back for fear of being scolded or found out.
By implication, it means there is need for hardware investment in schools for menstrual hygiene management in order to make the schools attractive and friendly for the girl pupil. Providing adequate menstrual facilities for the girl pupils is of key importance to provide privacy and a place to them to clean themselves. In addition, senior women teachers are able to help girls with questions around menstrual management. Apart from giving guidance on hygienic measures, they can also provide menstrual materials when necessary.
Furthermore, the education sector has a large educated workforce that can, if properly trained, provide accurate knowledge and develop a relationship of trust with students. The school setting promotes relationships and social interaction with peers and teachers or other school staff, which can lead to a feeling of school connectedness. It’s for this same cause that on Friday 20th January 2017, Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) in collaboration with Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAF) under the Ensonga project with support from Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF) conducted a training of Senior Women Teachers, Head Teachers and Senior Male Teachers from St. Joseph’s Primary school, Nansana Church of Uganda Primary School, Kasengejje Secondary school, St. Andrews High School and Wakiso Secondary School in Wakiso district, who are key decision makers in the schools who could provide an enabling MHM environment for the young girls in schools.
Among the training objectives included;
- Train and equip teachers and members of school management with information on the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential and promoting Menstruation with Dignity
- Break the myths, the stigma and discrimination surrounding menstruation and mobilize male teachers and parents to be agents of change and support girls during menstruation.
- Create a free and safe space for girls, boys, teachers and parents to dialogue, share experience, and learn about issues of proper menstruation hygiene and management and make commitments to support and promote menstruation with dignity.
- To build the advocacy capacity of teachers to advocate for a supportive environment - for women and adolescent girls to be able to enjoy and manage their menstruation in a hygienic way – wherever they are in privacy, safely, and with dignity.
- Take time to reflect, review progress and evaluate the campaign and its impact on the beneficiaries, assess challenges as well as suggest a way forward and next steps for the second phase.
“I experienced my menstruation in Primary four when I was only 10 years and I cried the whole day. I talked to my cousin about it since I feared to discuss this issue with my mother and she told me it was only for a short time. However the next month it recurred and I was so scared since it was really painful” said one of the female teacher – Wakiso Secondary School.
Male teachers were challenged to be agents of change and support girls during menstruation. The teachers were empowered to advocate for a supportive environment for women and adolescent girls to be able to enjoy and manage their menstruation in a hygienic way wherever they are in privacy, safety, and with dignity. “Counseling skills are essential especially in managing menstruation issues at school” said one of the female teacher – Kasengejje SS.
“A girl started her period in class while we were in primary school, and we all made noise hauling at her. Good enough the teacher who was with us was female so she helped the girl and took her to the boys’ dormitories to shower. This made us hate the bathroom , because the girl had washed her blood from the boys’ end and never liked it , in fact we did not want to use it anymore, but after we were introduced to the Ensonga project I have learnt a lot and wish we had been taught earlier, maybe we would not have treated the girl like that, because now I understand what menstruation is after I am a grown man, I am sure it would have made a big difference if we were taught when we were younger.” said one of the male teacher – St. Andrews High School.
Mr. Semakula Henry from Human Rights office of the Ministry of Health was the guest of honor and he explained how MHM is one of the biggest challenge faced by young girls in and out of school. He emphasized the role ministry of health in matters concerning menstruation which included; creation of partnerships, education development programs, training of teachers and district dialogues to empower all girls with knowledge and skills on MHM. 17 Hand Book Guides on MHM entitled “Understanding and Management of Menstruation” were donated to the participants.
“We did not know what it was but I remember when my sister started menstruating, at that time there were no sanitary pads, and girls were made to pack cut pieces of cloth to help them during menstruation. Our mother would always help my sister pack those pieces of cloth but we were so curious as to know what she was giving her that she could not give us the boys, in fact we one-time decided to sneak into her bag to know what they used to pack only to find those pieces of cloth. It used to give her a lot of trouble ,she sometimes would get admitted for a day or two and we just never used to understand why but when we learned of it after becoming mature men, we really felt pity for her” said another male teacher.
The training was participatory and interactive in nature where teachers contributed to the topics discussed and shared their experiences and stories related to menstruation at individual, school and community levels. A total of 10 teachers were equipped with information on the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential and promoting menstruation with dignity. The Teacher's had an opportunity to share the myths, misconceptions, the stigma and discrimination surrounding menstruation that young girls present with at school.