The promotion of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) made significant progress in Cameroon with two recently adopted national strategies that explicitly include MHM in their goals. The National Community-Led Total Sanitation Strategy, validated in 2016, relies on the commitment of United Nations Member States to set up measures in favour of sanitation for all and on the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to provide all households access to sustainable and affordable sanitation by 2030.
Signed by the Ministry of Energy and Water and the Ministry of Public Health, the strategy aims to end open defecation throughout the country by 2035. There are four strategic arms, including one (A2.3) involving the establishment of a national marketing programme for rural sanitation, which will include MHM.
Some towns, such as Ntui in the Centre province, have already taken steps and allocated a budget for the creation of equipment suited to the needs of women. “The town council has earmarked 10 million CFA (approximately 20,000 USD) for the building of toilets that ensure good menstrual hygiene,” announced Mveimba Oumarou, Deputy Mayor of Ntui. “They will be models for other towns”.
Signed in 2016 by the Ministry of Basic Education, the second strategy to include MHM concerns the adoption of sound and sustainable hygiene practices in schools. The National Strategy for the Promotion of Drinking Water Supplies, Hygiene and Sanitation in schools in Cameroon covers all primary schools in the country, and focuses mainly on schools in priority education zones in four impoverished areas (Adamaoua, East, Far North and North) with a total of 3,907 schools.
In the assessment of access to sanitation and hygiene infrastructures in schools, the document reveals that ‘most of the toilets available to pupils are not gender-sensitive,’ which discourages girls in puberty from using them during their periods and results in girls being absent during their periods.
The document addresses the question of MHM in a paragraph on the integration of education and WASH in the curriculum. The document notes that the question of menstrual hygiene education remains taboo in priority education zones. However, it also states that girls are increasingly free and calls for regular educational conversations on this topic.
To promote menstrual hygiene, the authors of the strategy promote that girls must be made to feel safe by making separate toilets available, as well as appropriate toilet kits (sanitary towels, paper, cloths if possible, soap). They recommend a health centre in or near the school to help girls manage painful periods.
These new ministerial policies have been welcomed by parliamentarians, who have asked to be further involved. “I’ve realised that Menstrual Hygiene Management -and even sanitation – is a huge problem,” admitted Cameroon Senator Emma Eno, “I’ll be more aware when voting for laws and reviewing Cameroon’s public policies.”
This article appears in the WSSCC/UN Women Joint Programme for Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation in West and Central Africa Information Letter No. 10. All information letters from the programme are available here.
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The training features the three key elements of MHM which are: Breaking the Silence, Managing Menstruation Hygienically, and Safe Reuse and Disposal