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WaterAid Tasks Governments on Girls’ Rights to Education, Equality

By Eric Ojo, Abuja

As the world marks this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day today, WaterAid has called on governments around the world to prioritise better toilets and washing facilities in schools, and to provide accurate information around menstruation in order to ensure girls’ rights to education and equality.

The call comes as nations prepare for a July 2018 review of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030, which is expected to show that progress on sanitation is far behind.

The commemoration of Menstrual Hygiene Day which was started by WASH United in 2014, is aimed at building awareness of the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management plays in helping women and girls reach their full potential.

According to statistics, the challenge is that more than a billion women and girls around the world must manage their periods without a safe, private place to go to the toilet, risking infection as well as being subject to ostracism and shame because of the stigma that still surrounds menstruation.

In addition, globally about half of women and girls, around a quarter of the world’s population, are of reproductive age and most of them will menstruate every month. Menstruation is an important issue yet it is shrouded in silence because of deeply rooted taboos and negative social norms.

Cultural beliefs and myths about menstruation are perpetuated by society and often portray women and girls as inferior to men and boys. This reinforces gender inequalities, often constitutes discrimination and has a negative impact on the fulfilment of the universal human rights to dignity, health and education of women and girls.

Nearly half of schools in low-and-middle-income countries like Nigeria do not have basic toilets. Consequently, girls who are menstruating risk embarrassment and shame during this time, and may decide not to attend school. UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 adolescent girls in Africa miss school during their menstruation and eventually drop out.
The theme of this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day “#NoMoreLimits”, highlights how crucial it is to support women and girls break free from limits and reach their full potential. In order to do this, WaterAid noted that the silence surrounding menstrual taboos and stigmatization must be broken and ensure that menstrual hygiene management is taken seriously and girls and women have the required resources to manage their menstruation with confidence and dignity.

The international not-for-profit organization which is currently working in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people, also observed that around the world, one in three girls face inadequate toilets, and many others face social and cultural limits when on their periods, adding that the provision of better toilets, accurate information about periods is crucial to keeping girls in school.

The group further called on government and relevant stakeholders to support the mobilising of resources to facilitate infrastructural improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools that will provide safe and private spaces for school girls to manage their periods hygienically, curriculum policy reforms that will ensure the continuing education of school girls on how to manage their menstruation safely.

WaterAid also harped on the need to build the capacity of school teachers and other gatekeepers to provide quality and comprehensive education and appropriate support to girls in schools and in the wider community for managing their menstruation safely.

Speaking at a press conference on Menstrual Hygiene Management organized in Abuja as part of the celebration this year’s event, Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, Dr ChiChi Aniagolu-Okoye, said menstrual hygiene management is not just about providing sanitary pads.

In her words, “It’s more than that. It’s about helping young girls and the people around them, including the men in their lives, to have the information awareness and the knowledge around this issue. It’s about helping girls to have the confidence to manage their hygiene safely and with dignity and also to ensure that wherever they are, provision is made for them to be able to manage their menstrual periods safely and hygienically and for the products to be collected and disposed effectively.

“Menstruation is not just a women’s issue; it is a topic that should affect everyone as unhygienic management of menstruation matters to all of society at large. It is crucial we promote and advocate for long-term hygiene behaviour change. Menstrual hygiene management is a human rights issue that matters to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals including the goals on health (3), education (4), gender equality (5), water and sanitation (6), economic growth (8) and sustainable consumption and production patterns (12).

“This Menstrual Hygiene Day, we amplify our call for cooperation with the education and health sectors as well as those working in reproductive and sexual health to ensure girls are prepared for the onset of menstruation, to ensure they can care for themselves in a dignified and hygienic way, and to dispel the myths and taboos that often accompany menstruation.”

She further explained that in many countries, women and girls are not allowed to cook, go to the farm or are even banished from the family home to an outdoor shed during each menstrual cycle, adding that WaterAid’s study on menstrual hygiene management in selected states in Nigeria, revealed deeply rooted attitudes and myths surrounding menstruation including the belief that a menstruating woman.

“Such beliefs result in restrictions being placed on girls and women during their menstruation – including exclusion from attending religious services and even holding their infants in some of the communities. To make matters works, these women and girls lack access to safe water or private toilets at home, in schools and in public places. The effects are devastating”, she stressed.

She further noted that proper menstrual hygiene management for women and girls requires inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools and public places; provision of protection materials at affordable rates; behavioural change and communication and a review of existing policies to address this important issue.

 

 

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