Menstrual Health Day – An Interview we all needed

This year's Menstrual Health Day we want to raise awareness again – to normalize, to celebrate the womens body and its abilities and to fight the stigma.

Today we want to raise awareness with a very special campaign: A statement T-Shirt with a print in period red, that we produced in cooperation with Julian and Sebastian from the sustainable screen printing company youme. We want to show our (and your) commitment – for equality, access to sanitation for all menstruating and against period shaming. 

To sum it up: We want to draw even more attention to the most natural thing in the world.

With the purchase of a T-shirt you can achieve even more: We donate the proceeds to the non-profit organization Days for Girls International, which takes care of the sanitation and hygiene of girls internationally.

For this very special event, we had the opportunity to talk to Rabia Baloch, who is sitting in Balochistan, Pakistan working on a global programme called ‘Sanitation for Millions’ supporting the efforts of Days for Girls.

Nina: We want to raise awareness about the hurdles that girls all over the globe have to face in terms of equal rights. One of them is the stigma around menstruation. That is why I am very happy to have the ability to talk to you today, Rabia. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do and what your work is.

Rabia: Thank you, Nina. It’s an opportunity for me to talk about this topic. I am working with GIZ as a technical advisor for behaviour change communication and monitoring and evaluation on ‘Sanitation for Millions’ which is a Global Programme that aims to provide safe access to sanitation and hygiene facilities with a special focus to vulnerable groups for example girls, women and refugees.

Nina: Poor menstrual hygiene undermines the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls around the world. Can you explain the circumstances that cause these problems for girls in Pakistan in particular?

Rabia: Sure. Approximately 25% of the word population are females aged from 15 to 49. Those females deal with the natural process of menstruation, which marks girls’ adolescence and is part of females’ lives until the entry of menopause. In a country like Pakistan, girls and women face many adversities in order to gain safe menstrual hygiene. Let’s talk about my province Balochistan. It’s one of the biggest provinces in terms of land. Balochistan is always considered a socially tribal area of the country, representing the rigidness, trends and thoughts particularly against women and girls.

And they are not easily exposed to society. In this regard, women confront multiple issues in the routines of life. Also in girls’ education: Many girls leave their education in the middle or hardly reach secondary education. Many factors are involved in discontinuing their education leaving at an early stage. Among these are availability of basic WASH services in schools, mainly lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, resulting that they don’t share their menstrual health related issues with the teachers.

Cultural and social impediments accompanied by the lack of gender equality and high hygiene standards during menstruation negatively impact this menstrual health of females. As I also discussed, in addition, this lack of proper toilets or sanitation facilities is mainly responsible for an undignified and traumatic process.

Nina: I see. What is your work in terms of fighting these issues? And what are the biggest challenges you face?

Rabia: As I earlier mentioned, through the Sanitation for Millions Programme we confine menstrual hygiene management interventions onto only schools’ level. Schools management and education departments are still cooperative and supportive, and they remained supportive throughout this process. We consider the school as a suitable form to start menstrual health management, where a number of girls’ schools’ students can get benefitted and avail the services of it. Initially, we carried out an assessment in the schools and assessed the basic needs in the public schools. It is very important that our interventions are in the government schools, both in girls’ and boys’ in terms of WASH but in terms of MHM we are providing these MHM services at the girls’ schools.

However, first time menstrual hygiene facilities have been provided in the schools, particularly in the government middle girls’ schools. MHM washrooms have been constructed and we are still constructing female-friendly toilets. We also call it MHM washroom. We are doing the awareness raising sessions not only with the girls, but also with the teachers. We are providing trainings to the girls and the schoolteachers. So that they are well aware about MHM and also, they would know that if we have constructed a facility that they would know how to properly use it. MHM washrooms or female-friendly toilets are constructed along with the proper hand-washing facilities in the schools.

These washrooms are constructed properly inside the schools’ compound with a complete water connection which is ensured by the team. The washrooms are completely equipped. When I say equipped that means the basic items that the girl student can easily access which is like to properly handle or manage the menstruation. Simultaneously, MHM orientations are carried out and we are still doing that to sensitize school administration, teachers and students towards its importance. These sessions are also meant to build the confidence of the girl or girls to discuss openly with their peers or their teachers on her menstrual period or MHM-related complexities and its solutions.

The challenge you were talking about is still the insufficient menstrual knowledge, and the consequent incorrect practices among girls and women. The wrong perceptions, the cultural barriers and, of course, in Pakistan one of the major factors is that we have a male dominant society. 

Nina: I see that awareness raising is a big topic.

What does menstrual health day in terms of those opportunities mean to you and what are activities that can be done?

Rabia: The menstrual hygiene day is an opportunity for all of us to speak about the health of girls and women. It is a day also for men to help destigmatize menstruation. On this day, we can break the silence, end the stigma and spread the word about the importance of safe menstruation and health by participating for instance in the global bracelet campaign which is happening every year across the globe. It is an important day and we can take it as an opportunity to destigmatize this taboo around menstrual hygiene.

Nina: Okay, what do you think we can do here in Germany to support your efforts? 

Rabia: When I think about this topic, I feel about the challenges of having proper resources. Resource mobilization is very important. Any stakeholder, government and development partner is willing to do anything on MHM but the point is: we lack the resources. This is what can be done at Germany level.

Nina: What menstrual health situation would you like to see particularly in the area you are working in, five years from now?

Rabia: It's promising to say anything about it right now.

Let’s be honest, now menstrual health is getting started to get attention from the government, particularly from the health and education department. This topic is now part of the policy in the education department within the schools. As I said, it is getting attention also from many other stakeholders such as UN agencies, development partners, and so on. If the efforts are done in the same way, I am sure at least we will be able to destigmatize menstruation completely. 

And when all do the right awareness creation, we will be able to reduce the absenteeism or school drop out of the students. 

Nina: We are not a big stakeholder, but we try to raise awareness and I thank you very much and I hope we can at least support you a bit in terms of resource mobilization.

Thank you for your time.

Rabia: Thank you very much Nina for having me.

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