MHM: Father figures implored to act

Date: 26th May 2016

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Credit: WSSCC/Patrick England

Credit: WSSCC/Patrick England

In Uganda, the International Menstrual Hygiene Day was celebrated on Friday 6th May. Actors called upon father figures to support menstruating girls.

The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports (MOESTS) on Friday 6th May 2016, marked the International Menstrual Hygiene Day with a call to fathers and father figures to support menstruating girls and ensure that they do not miss school, or suffer other consequences relating to lack of necessary sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Commemoration of the 2016 Menstrual Hygiene Day in Uganda came three weeks ahead of the official May 28th to enable school children to participate in the event before breaking off for first term holidays. MoESTS hosted the event at Mackay College Natete, with support from NGOs and Private Sector actors, committed to the cause of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in Uganda.

This year’s theme: Menstruation Matters to Everyone Everywhere: Father Figures it’s your turn, was intended to draw attention to the need for men who play the role of father to get involved in menstrual management issues. Many men shy away from the subject of menstruation. This may be because of the cultural setting in Uganda which perceives menstruation to be a woman’s issue. At school, boys and male teachers often find it difficult to support girls in menstruation. Even religious leaders and other opinion leaders shy away from the subject, leaving it to the mothers and aunties.

Speaking at the event, the Director for Basic and Secondary Education, Dr Yusuf Nsubuga observed that the subject of menstruation was surrounded by silence and had many negative cultural and religious attitudes associated with it. “Menstruating women and girls are considered contaminated, dirty and impure. Girls in Uganda especially in rural areas suffer stigma,” Dr Nsubuga said.

He further observed that menstruation was a particularly salient issue because it had a more pronounced effect on the quality and enjoyment of education than did other aspects of puberty. It involves a learning component as well as elements of the school environment and infrastructure. These include access to menstrual hygiene materials latrines and places to change safe water and sanitation and good hygiene practices like handwashing with soap. “Without these the school environment is unfriendly, unhealthy, gender discriminatory and inadequate,” Dr Nsubuga stressed.

Research has shown that in many countries, the onset of puberty results in significant changes in school participation for girls. It is estimated that one out of ten menstruating girls skips school four to five days per month or completely drops out. A girl absent from school due to menstruation for four days of every 28 cycles loses 13 learning days per school term.

This year, The Ministry of Education and Sports with partners called upon father figures to take their turn to support girls and women to manage menstruation. The appeal was intended to reach fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, religious leaders, cultural leaders, community leaders. There are many ways in which father figures can support girls and women to manage menstruation.

These include:

  • Keeping the girls in school by supporting, motivating and empowering them to cope with menstruation
  • Talking to girls about menstruation: Start the conversation with mother figures
  • Providing for the girls: Girls need pads knickers, soap, water, painkillers and private, safe changing rooms

Indeed the event was characterized by different activities which saw male participants share their experiences on how they handle issues to do with menstruation in their households and communities. One parent shared an experience where he felt daunted by the task of helping his daughter who started her menstruation in the absence of her mother (his wife). “I didn’t know what to do. I tried to show her how to use a pad but I am not sure I did it the right way.”

A student at Mackay College, Stephen Kiiza Atwiine presented an essay on menstruation, encouraging girls to stay calm and not to be afraid of seeking support whenever they need it. He argued that menstruation was normal and healthy and girls should not feel shy about it.

Health talks, panel discussions, experience sharing and demonstrations on how to make and use reusable menstrual pads were all part of the “pink and blue” event. Students of Mackay College also composed special songs, poems and dances to mark the event.

This article, orginially published on IRCWASH.org, was written by Lydia Mirembe, Communication and Knowledge Management Advisor at IRC Uganda. 

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