Ending period poverty. “Building a stigma free community of Adolescent Girls and Young Women in a COVID-19 World.
1st June, 2021
A hashtag #EndPeriodPoverty recently took multiple trends on twitter as key Menstrual Health Advocacy Champions engaged in a 5 Q & A, tweet chat panel session model approach to dive deep into this global campaign aimed at ending period poverty through easing access to sanitary products, create safe, hygienic spaces for Adolescent Girls and Young Women who menstruate in poor communities, and promote the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma.
Period poverty! This is described as the struggle many Adolescent Girls and Young women faced while trying to afford menstrual hygiene products. The inability to purchase period sanitary material because of its high prices. This is not just limited to pads tampons or menstrual cups but also access to water, soap and medical supplies that help on cramping
Every day, Adolescent girls and young women are forced to choose between buying food and or sanitary towels. For this reason, the Gender and Women Empowerment Cluster under Youth Coalition for SDGs in collaboration with the Period Equality Network held a tweet chat as a post International Menstrual Hygiene Day event.
“COVID-19 has resulted into loss of income amongst young women and guardians who Adolescent girls depend on for adequate and good quality Menstrual Hygiene products, thus all women and girls who are not economically empowered, and without earnings have been severely affected to mention but with much emphasis on those in under-served communities and humanitarian settings in Uganda.” Ms Anne Alan Sizomu- Program Specialist_ Adolescent and Youth SRH United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA- Uganda and a pane-list who sat in for the UNFPA Country Representative during the tweet chat.
Who were mostly affected by Period Poverty?: During the panel chat, it was mentioned that period poverty was rooted within the Education system where school-aged Adolescent Girls in under-served communities, areas affected by Natural Hazards and Internally Displaced Communities among others faced regular school absenteeism during their Menstruation periods. Nearly a quarter of Ugandan girls between the ages of 12 and 18 dropped out of school when they began menstruation, the country’s Education and Sports Ministry reported.
An important issue to note was that Adolescent Girls who were experiencing Menstruation Periods for their first time were mostly affected; “the ones who experience their first periods at a very young age are prone to vulnerability especially as they struggle to afford menstrual products and supplies.” Noted by Ms. Patricia Humura, one of the pane-lists from Irise Institute East Africa. She went ahead to sight out the taboos, gender & language insensitivity and inadequate Menstrual Health information as key drivers of Menstrual Stigma. Workplaces and public transport still lack safe, hygiene measures and guidelines for Menstrual Health Management. Young Women demanded for day-offs during Menstruation periods. She added.
Ms. Faith Mairah mentioned that Menstruation is the origin of many Sexual Reproductive Health challenges amongst Adolescent Girls and Young Women in Uganda. “When Adolescent Girls start Menstruating, it is then that the risks of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions surface, their sexual libido increased, unhealthy relationships and risky sexual behaviour elevated,” she added. Translating Menstrual Health information in local languages will support bridging the Menstrual Information gap amongst Adolescent Girls and Young Women.
Mental Health and Period Poverty.
Being able to access menstrual products is more than just dealing with bleeding and feeling comfortable. Period poverty is linked to anxiety, depression, feelings of embarrassment and other financial barriers. The lack of access to period products prevents Adolescent Girls and Young Women in under-served communities from being able to go to work or school. A recent study conducted by Always revealed that, since the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 3 young people feel less confident because they’ve missed after school activities. When girls don’t have access to period products, not only do they not feel protected, but it also puts their confidence, dignity and education at risk.
Menstrual Health Disorders like the pre-menstrual syndrome that led to behavioural and body changes still remained a challenge. This included the stress, emotional outbursts, fatigue, lack of appetite, severe abdominal pain, anxiety, mood swings, self-denial, gender identity issues etc. There is need to prioritise psycho-social support interventions as they were crucial in providing more information on menstrual health. Identifying men who are Menstrual Health allies should remain a priority in order to challenge menstrual related Stigma in schools and communities. –Faith Mairah (Youth Country Coordinator SRHR Alliance Uganda).
Role of Governments on ending Period Poverty: It was noted that there is no stand-alone Government policy to address Menstrual Health Management in Uganda though Civil Society Organisations and Development partners continue to extend their support through the existing government structures from village level to promote Menstrual Health. At the moment, the need for Private Sector collaborations is highly echoed as one of the pane-lists quoted, “We need to partner with the private sector and advocate for a tax holiday on raw materials used to make sanitary products to ease affordability while purchasing them.” Supporting processes of Standardisation of Menstrual Hygiene Products to minimise risks of menstrual health complications amongst Adolescent Girls and Young Women in under served communities.
The tweet chat ended in agreement that we needed to come from a place where we recognise that Menstrual Health is a human right. It was clearly noted that access to Menstrual Health products and addressing social and cultural taboos that limit dignified experiences should be prioritised. Continuing to understand the community settings and what works for Adolescent Girls and Young Women in under-served communities of Uganda is very crucial. More so, it is important that the existing National Menstrual Health Strategic Plan be translated into a Menstrual Health policy through the Ministry of health and the ministry of Education and Sports to support the adolescent girls and young women in and out of school.