“I didn’t know what was happening. I was very frightened.” Josephina, aged 15, describes the experience of her first menstruation. For most girls in Tanzania there is no education concerning menstruation, so the first time can be scary. Tanzania volunteer Regina describes how “noone told me, I had thought I got hurt”. There are still many taboos and superstitions concerning periods in Tanzania and in rural communities 88% of women think of it as a ‘secret’. In Tanzanian primary schools, 52% of girls toilets do not have doors. As primary schools can include girls up to the age of 16, this makes things very difficult when girls start their periods and they often end up dropping out.
At Raleigh we want to change this and part of our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project involves building a Menstruation Hygiene Management Room for girls. This room will include a space and facilities for the girls to wash themselves and to safely change and dispose of the Khangas they wear as pads. Our project also involves delivering MHM focussed lessons to the girls on how to manage their period and what the MHM room is for.
As a study tool, UNICEF Tanzania has created a book called ‘Growth and Changes’ which has compiled easy to digest facts, as well as stories from Tanzanian girls in order to make other girls feel that their period is natural and normal and not the ‘disease’ that 21% of them describe it as. The books have proved popular and reading stories from girls they can empathise with has allowed them to open up and feel more comfortable discussing the topic.
Gradually, the subject of menstruation is being normalised and taboos broken down in places like Tanzania. Magazine Femina is published every two months and is full of advice and examples of inspirational work people are doing in Tanzania in order to improve MHM. Their ‘Red Agenda’ includes points such as, ‘Menstruation is natural and normal. We must do away with the secrecy, silence, shame, myths and taboos surrounding menstruation.’ ‘We live in modern times and everyone should engage in creating a more equal, safe and healthy, home and work environment for women and girls.’
Building an MHM room and delivering lessons is a huge step forward in villages like Mkindo and is the first time the village has seen anything of the sort. But there are still steps to take. All of the women we spoke to agreed that they would much rather be using sanitary pads but they are far too expensive. Shockingly, at up to 2000 shillings, nearly 1 pound for a small pack, the prices are comparable to the UK and cost more that a meal in Tanzania. Many projects making reusable sanitary pads have sought to improve this and have proven to be effective such as Jennifer Shigoli’s brand Elea.
In Mkindo we have worked alongside a local tailor to create an example template of a reusable pad. Made with scraps of Khangas but with an added layer of absorbent sponge fabric the pad is fairly cheap to make and can be cleaned and used again. We took this example pad to class along with the manufacturing instructions and encouraged the girls to try and make them at home. In an effort to implement WASH livelihoods into the community, the tailor has agreed to make and sell the pads for 1000 shillings each.
In rural communities, 95% of people feel that an MHM room will improve attendance at school. Along with the MHM focussed lessons and the option to purchase reusable pads in Mkindo we hope that this increase in attendance will be seen. There is still a long way to go regarding menstruation but the existence of magazines such as Femina show that this is an issue which is being pushed forward and is slowly starting to change.