Breaking the silence on menstrual hygiene management: training trainers in Kerala, India

Date: 7th December 2015

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Credit: WSSCC

This blog was written by Virginia Kamowa, Senior Programme Officer for Global Advocacy at WSSCC. For feedback and questions, please send an e-mail to virginia.kamowa@wsscc.org.

Seventy-one participants from south India and Kenya have learnt how to train others on menstrual hygiene management (MHM), and also influence MHM policy and practice at all levels, thanks to a five-day workshop supported by WSSCC .

The ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management Training of Trainers’ workshop held in Alappuzha, Kerala was organised by the Indian government, Kerala state government and the Socio Economic Unit Foundation (SEUF), a Kerala-based NGO, in collaboration with WSSCC.

Opening the workshop, SEUF’s executive director, Dr. K. Balalchandra Kurup, executive director wondered why menstrual hygiene issues are a taboo when menstruation is a natural phenomenon, while the event’s guest of honour, Dr Bishwakala, associate professor in health, said: “MHM covers many aspects of our lives including social, economic, psychological, health and should therefore be well-understood and addressed accordingly.”

Dr Bishwakala stressed that failing to address menstrual hygiene taboos has many negative consequences, which result in women and girls not attaining their full potential and thus living with dignity.

The sixty-three participants from five south India states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka – and eight participants from Kenya shared their experiences at last month’s workshop (December 14-18) of how MHM issues are kept hidden and surrounded by myths and mystery in their own communities, which they emphasised leads to poor sanitation and hygiene for women, girls and others.

One participant from Karnataka spoke of her first period, saying she was told to stay on the veranda of her parents’ house as she was considered unclean. “I was not allowed to bath for four days during my menstruation,” she said. “I had a bad smell and my sanitary napkin was very dirty. My mother threw food at me like a dog, as she would not touch me”

The workshop’s facilitators worked hard throughout to ensure participants grasped the three-pronged approach to MHM: break the silence; use safe menstrual hygiene management; and ensure safe disposal of used menstrual materials. They helped participants to understand key concepts while also helping them attain key skills for training others. The training involved plenty of role playing and mock training sessions, which enabled practice on the use of MHM tools.

Participants expressed their satisfaction by openly sharing that their expectations were met and they were so happy to have been part of such an exceptional training. The quotes below illustrate some of the participants’ thoughts of the training:

“We are leaving this place very different from the way we came,” said one of the Kenyan participants, highlighting the workshop’s positive effects. “We are now better MHM trainers. We are meeting next week to develop a roll-out strategy for policy influence and implementation at different levels.”

An Indian participant added: “The week has been a big eye opener to me. I have discovered that MHM myths are universal across districts, countries and continents. Myths exist in both rural and urban areas, even among the educated. We indeed have to address these universal superstitions.”

One participant after the other continued to share what they had learnt during the week. A common theme among the participants was “added value” – a sense that they had gained much more than simply a training of trainers exercise from the workshop. For instance, some shared the view that they had become “change agents” who will start with changing their own mind-sets, before influencing change in others. Consequently, they all vowed to “break the silence on MHM” in all aspects of their lives.

Half of the 2.4 billion people globally with no access to sanitation and hygiene are women. Girls and women menstruate between the ages of 9 and 45 every month for about 3500 days over a lifetime. Globally, however, MHM issues are shrouded in secrecy, myths and taboos.

To help combat the issue, target 6.2 of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) articulates and highlights the significance of “paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all. The target is in line with one of the key principles of the SDGs which is “leave no one behind”.

As WSSCC believes that equality, human rights and non-discrimination are central to ensuring access to safe water supply, adequate sanitation and good hygiene for all people everywhere, among other things, addressing the MHM needs of women and girls is crucial. This includes dignity and privacy, which should be central to the achievement of target 6.2 and other SDG-related targets, for example, those related to health, education, gender, inequality, ending poverty and more.

As the Kerala workshop demonstrates, WSSCC engages in various initiatives aimed at influencing policy and practice, especially involving diverse stakeholders, including top government officials, heads of institutions, and many more – all of which helps to ensure prioritisation of equality and non-discrimination in policy content, budgeting and practice.

As WSSCC programme manager Archana Patkar says: “Menstrual hygiene management is not just a WASH issue – it is a human rights issue which can be used as an entry point to unlock barriers that women and girls face across various development aspects.”

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