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Elephant in the room

One important aspect of women’s health that is often overlooked is the subject of menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

This subject, however, becomes topical the moment the regular menstrual cycle is missed, especially in young girls. Though menstruation is a natural and normal part of the female reproductive age, many parents fail to discuss menstrual health with their girls before their first period, because of stigma and in some cases, taboos and myths that surround this physiological process.

By denying young girls (and boys for that matter) adequate information on the importance of menstrual hygiene, we rob them of the opportunity to learn and develop healthy habits as they transition into adulthood.

To enjoy a stress-free time without the need to feel shame at any time of the month is an issue of fundamental human rights and positive adolescent health.

Opportunity

In some parts of the world, and even in Ghana, not every girl has the opportunity to learn, engage and take care of her own health without the stress and difficulty finding the right supplies during menstruation.

For some girls, it is common knowledge (among both students and teachers) that they absent themselves monthly because of the pain they have to endure during the first few days of their period.

Others also experience heavy menstrual flow that disturbs any activity of the day. Because of the lack of awareness of how to maintain hygiene, and poor knowledge of the available menstruation products and how to use and dispose them properly, there is a public health risk and infections among girls and women, especially.

Confident

Girls and women must be empowered to feel confident about menstrual hygiene. Beyond education, the provision of water at all times to ensure personal hygiene continues without stress is important.

There should also be adequate drinking water for girls and female teachers to stay hydrated during their period. Inadequate facilities can affect their experience at school. The mandatory provision of running water, safe and clean toilets in every school should not be viewed as a luxury. This is only a basic necessity of life.

Commendation

Families living with adolescent girls with special needs deserve commendation as we mark this year’s World Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28). The stories of how these unsung families maintain menstrual hygiene remain buried and untold.

They have an additional challenge that is worth drawing attention to. Among the many narratives, a mother recounts how she spends three times the amount she would have spent ordinarily every month, because her daughter living with autism discards her sanitary pad each time she sees blood on urination attempts during her period.

Most of these mothers have to keep track of their own menstrual cycle, as well as their daughters’ while keeping an eagle eye to ensure these children are safeguarded at all times.

These, among many others, are the reasons why society must pay attention to the plight of children living with special needs and their families. It is not only about bread and butter for them, but even in a matter such as this, which is already an elephant in the room.

Products

Menstrual products, as a matter of concern, should be made affordable for females. It is unfair, to say the least, that in a male-dominated world, many male legislators are happy to place heavy taxes on these products without giving thoughts to their own mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

It is the responsibility of every thoughtful society to consider ways by which investment can be made in the production of sustainable re-usable menstrual products, if equity is not a word we delight in just throwing around.

The writer is a Child Development Expert/ Fellow at Zero-to-three Academy, USA.
E-mail: nanaesi_19@yahoo.co.uk

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