HappyFlow Monday: Involving men in menstruation - personal perspectives on Menstrual Health Management

Thabisani Ncube

Over 800 million people menstruate daily (Global Citizen). Women and young girls who menstruate are excluded from daily basic activities including forbidden from eating certain foods, or engaging publicly when they are on their period as they are perceived as being dirty, yet it is this 'shameful' activity that enables life. The cultural shame attached to menstruation as well as a shortage of resources stops women from going to school and working every day. Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and/or waste management.
Period poverty has forced more than a quarter of women and girls to miss work or school at some point in their lives. Period poverty is the term used to describe when women and girls struggle or are unable to afford menstrual products and the impact this has on them. According to the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO; 2009) up to 500 million women and girls are living each month in period poverty.

Due to financial constraints, they lack access to essential tools for menstrual hygiene management (MHM), such as sanitary products and handwashing facilities.

Period poverty is often worsened by the stigma that still surrounds menstruation in many communities, making it difficult to practise optimal hygiene. It risks the systematic exclusion of girls and women from life-changing opportunities such as education (FIGO, 2019).

I ask myself in this moment that while period poverty represents an SRHR-neglect issue that needs to be brought higher up the global community development agenda through policy advocacy, in my own sphere of influence l need to start asking what I can do for my government rather than what can my government do for me:

To end period poverty in our lifetime we need a multi-sectoral response, and it starts with you and me and the small actions we take. If you want to end period poverty these are some ideas for you to translate your commitment into action:
Buy your own products from brands that give back
Donate to charitable organisations
Go on marches
Sign petitions
Raise awareness
Donate period products
Educate yourself.

Image credit: Manchester Meteor

John Otieno


The debate is gaining traction and the campaign is bearing fruits.

Schools are reopening and, as usual, students are preoccupied with back-to-school shopping. So, I walked into a local supermarket and while making my way to the shelf, I bumped into an mzee who looked to be about my father's age. Standing next to him with a trolley was a young adolescent lady who, from the look of things, was his daughter.

Towards what seemed to be the end of their business, a conversation ensued:

Dad: "Paro ni wasetieko gikmoko tee koro wanyalo dhi dala." ('I think we're now done with everything and we can leave for home.')

Daughter: "Ee, to pod adwa nyiew pads." ('Yes, but I still want to buy sanitary pads.')

Dad: "Ni ang’o?" ('Sorry? What is that?')

Daughter: "Sanitary towel."

Dad: "Ooh... To mamau omiyi pesa moro?" ('Okay... Did your mom assist you with some cash?')

Daughter: "Ee, to okonyal romo." ('Yes, but it won't be enough to buy the amount I need')

Long story short, I had to intervene to at least make her dad understand what it means to have enough sanitary towels for menstrual hygiene and that it shouldn't be viewed as a mother-figure's responsibility.

In our cultural set-up, it happens that the menstruation debate is scaled down and viewed as being reserved for the female gender - something that has for quite a while jeopardized the fight against menstrual-related infections and stigma.

Universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health proposes gender mainstreaming and analysis as essential strategies for tracking progress and outcomes. Therefore, men should also be given equal opportunity in such issues to make them feel part of the discussion. They should be made to understand their defined role in achieving greater benefits as far as menstrual hygiene is an issue.

Talking it out as it is - and in the public eye - drives away the shame and makes it part of our normal and daily conversation. I mean, there is no specific place designed for its conversation, so let's talk about it in our churches, places of work, markets, schools, etc.