When we were going up, menstruation was a topic for adults and most people wouldn’t talk about it in public in our context in Africa. Most little girls who started menstruation at the age of 10 years would try hiding it from their parents by using tissues and even pieces of cloths to pad themselves up. In school if you happened to soil yourselves up you became an object of mockery, gossip and even isolation.
Most mothers were too shy to discuss the topic with their little girls at home so it was very embarrassing coupled with fear when they eventually start menstruating especially at a very tender age.
In most households, it was the duty and responsibility of the mother to provide clothing, toiletries and menstrual hygiene kits for their children. Most of these mothers who were not even allow to work by their husbands struggled so much to provide these. Just imagine a household were all were girls; these mothers sometimes prayed their children do not come to menstruation age as they already considered buying sanitary pads a financial burden considering that they had no income and had to depend on the little provided by their husbands.
Not much has changed especially for women and girls living with disabilities with whom I work on a daily basis. There is still a lot of misconception about persons living with disabilities one of which is them not having sexual and reproductive rights especially as they depend on families and other care givers to provide for their needs including sanitary pads in most cases. Most family members think these persons will always be dependent and would even pray they never come to menstruation age and for those who are already mensurating it become a burden to them to provide these menstrual kits.
Most of these women with disabilities depend on basic income generation activities to provide for their basic needs. With the sociopolitical crises that has affected the two English speaking Regions coupled with the corona Pandemic, economic activities have really slowed down. Which means very minimal income for these women thus more and more financial dependency.
I have been taking action in my own little way to address some of the issues in view of menstruation. I have been working in collaboration with the Cameroon Baptist convention as a community mobilization agent in the Bamenda 2 council area which is a typical rural community. I go into these communities and carry out education and sensitization of these community members of Sexual and reproductive health which include menstrual hygiene. We educate parents on the importance of educating their children (both boys and Girls) on menstrual hygiene early enough to avoid withdrawals on the part of the girls and mostly stigmatization on the part of the boys. Most of this education is done at the level of the families, meeting groups, churches and wherever possible. We also engage in talking with traditional rulers to demystify mirth associated with menstruation. We make them understand that menstruation is a normal developmental phase in any girl and should be considered a pride and not a Mirth.
Thanks to the support by the Cameroon Baptist convention and United national population fund we have been able to educate and distribute reusable pads to most of the women and girls of menstruation age and held workshops to talk about Topics related to menstrual hygiene.
Based on feedback we are getting from these women, the idea of using reusable pads is actually working out better for them compared to the normal disposable pads especially as its cheaper as they can use it over and over and its very easy to wash. Its also very comfortable considering it gives provision for those who have a heavy menstrual flow.
It is a collective responsibility by all to ensue that young girls who get their first period have the right information about their bodies and have a safe space to address their preoccupations. They should also be provided with menstrual Hygiene kits.
Therefore, we call on the following stakeholders to take their individual responsibility as follows:
Family members should educate their children including boys on issues related to menstrual hygiene and menstruation and help these children to see menstruation. as a woman’s pride rather than a stigma.
More massive sensitization should be carried out in the communities especial with traditional rulers involved so as to educate them on those harmful traditional believes about menstruation.
At the level of school’s topics or subjects that dwell on menstrual hygiene should be included in the school curriculum at an age-appropriate level.
The government especially the ministry of health should include topics on menstruation in most of their health campaigns and give it the value it needs to create a positive impact. They should also fund many more projects involved in sexual and reproductive health and education and provision of menstrual hygiene Kits, not only in the urban areas but more in the rural areas where there are still a lot of taboos and harmful cultural believes and practices on menstruation.